We all have in mind that image, James Rodriguez kissing the Real Madrid badge after a celebration and the Santiago Bernabeu singing in adulation or this fantastic goal vs Uruguay at the World Cup in 2014 followed by his dance steps. In fact, the Colombian midfielder who is actually on loan in Munich doesn’t hide his desire to come back to Madrid. Despite the injuries, he is still a good midfielder. This tactical analysis will use statistics to determine whether Real Madrid will benefit from getting back the offensive midfielder.
Former playground player
After a magnificent World Cup in 2014 where he scored 6 goals, he signed at Real Madrid for €80M. He had a very brilliant first campaign (29 games all as starter, 13 goals and 14 assists in La Liga). He replaced Angel Di Maria in the role of this third midfielder positioned on the left side of the pitch. When team had the ball it was a 4-3-3; when they had to defend, he was more a left midfielder in a 4-4-2 flat. The Italian boss uses the same shape actually at Napoli. Despite playing offensive football, the team has a big problem of balance. The finished at the door of the UEFA Champions League final, they have been eliminated by a strong Juventus led by Alvaro Morata who scored three goals against Madrid – one of them at Santiago Bernabeu.
His second season with Real Madrid was a little bit complicated, with Rafael Benitez he was a starter though, as right-midfielder in a defensive-minded 4-2-3-1, the Spaniard coach preferred Gareth Bale as playmaker – a weird choice as we know James Rodriguez is an archetype playmaker while the latter is a winger most known for his speed. Benitez was been sacked after a 0-4 in his first Clasico. He was replaced by Zinedine Zidane, the Frenchman didn’t want to take more risk, and he dropped the Colombian for a defensive midfielder Casemiro. At last the Colombian skipper played 48 games, 30 as starter, scored 15 goals and 14 assists in the two last spells at Madrid.
Last season with Carlo Ancelotti then Jupp Heynckes he registered 23 appearances in Bundelisga (19 as starter) scored seven times and provided 11 assists. Not bad as statistics if we know that he wasn’t a first choice when Jupp Heynckes was in charge.
After a difficult autumn, Niko Kovac modified some stuff in his formation, he uses more a 4-2-3-1 with Javi Martinez & Thiago Alcantara as double pivot, and the former AS Monaco player in front of them in a trequartista role. This modification helped him a lot. In the beginning, he didn’t like the fact that his Croatian boss used him on the wings or in a 4-3-3 as a midfielder. Even if he had played the same role at Madrid but Kovac isn’t Carlo Ancelotti. This amelioration is understandable by the recent performances:
The number 11 counts two assists this campaign, both have come this February.
Against Liverpool at Anfield in 88 minutes, he has 40 accurate passes on 43 attempted, 3 chances created. Usually positioned on the wing, he crossed six times with only two finding a teammate, 66 touches, three key passes, lost four of his seven duels, 4 recoveries and was fouled twice.
We usually read in the newspapers that the former FC Porto playmaker wants to go back or he misses his teammates etc. James enjoyed his time at the Spanish capital: Spanish speaker, he shared the same locker-room with some world-class player such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Luka Modric, and Sergio Ramos and was under the command of two high-class coaches (Ancelotti and Zizou); of course Bayern Munich is a big institution with a very professional board but they don’t have a Ballon d’Or candidate in their team nor a top coach.
Where he could fit?
Real Madrid has to change some of their key players. They’re looking for a successor for Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Luka Modric. The latter concerns us more, because James Rodriguez can play in the midfield as a number ten or alongside Kroos and Casemiro. If he plays on the right channel of this midfield he would cut inside very often; if he plays behind the forward, he would be lethal in the final third with his skills (long range shots, key passes, assists, crosses).
However having a player like James in the midfield would cost Los Merengues the balance, this famous terms in football. He doesn’t intercept as often as Luka Modric uses to, and his recent injuries could cause problems when you know that Real Madrid usually play since the campaign 2013/14 around 60 games per season.
As we can see in the image above, the Croatian short less (1,53) than the Colombian (2.57). The Ballon d’Or 2018 participates less in the Build-up while James has an XGBuildup90 at 0.48. In key passes, Rodriguez is ahead with 3.81 KeyPasses per game whereas Modric counts on average only 1.7. The Bayern Munich number 11 has xG per 90 evidently more impressive than his former teamate only for his former teammate.
The Colombian is superior in all compartments of the game be it in the construction, the assists, the chances of goals. The former Spurs midfielder is struggling just like his club.
Unlike the Barcelona midfielders (mainly Rakitic), none of Real Madrid’s current midfielders offer what he is capable of such as being the second wave of attacks. With Benzema spending his time outside the box, and the absence of a real scorer, the arrival of the Colombian would be a big plus for the offensive phases with his mischief and his beautiful touch, something that Solari’s squad rarely shows
His main function will be to create this link between the middle and the attack, the keys of the build-up will be given to him while Kroos and Casemiro will take care of aborting the offensive actions of the opponents.
The desire to bring the Colombian back to the Bernabeu was formulated last by Julen Lopetegui but he still had a season to go at Bayern Munich.
Fede Valverde and Dani Ceballos are two good rotation options but not enough for a big club like Real Madrid. It’s certain that Real Madrid will be very active this summer. The priority is a forward that can score 30 goals at least per season; the Hazard case became complicated since the FIFA threat of sanction, and Christian Eriksen who can be a serious contender to James Rodriguez would be difficult to purchase because Daniel Levy is a king in trying to outdo his rivals. I can say that bring back the Colombian would be a cheaper and already known choice for Real Madrid, though the biggest question is: who will be their coach next season?