Rodrygo’s Deja vu

Ahmed Walid
6 min readMay 5, 2022

As Eduardo Camavinga’s inch perfect pass was played into Karim Benzema, the chaos started.

In a rollercoaster of a tie between Manchester City and Real Madrid, the ending — as crazy as it was — felt in order with Real Madrid’s recent triumphs. Another comeback was added to the list after Paris Saint-Germain, Chelsea and Sevilla. If there’s anything that needs further study, that would be the psychological resilience of this Real Madrid team.

The enthralling second leg against Manchester City could be broken down into three time intervals; 0–70, 70–90 and 95–120. In the first 70 minutes both teams were as equally good. Real Madrid’s off the ball pressing and medium block made it harder for City to penetrate, and City uncharacteristically endured one of their worst phases in possession relative to their average performances.

However, City’s pressing and their ability to win balls in the center of the pitch through Rodri and Bernardo Silva kept their presence in the game and minimized Real Madrid’s right sided threat through Dani Carvajal’s crosses and Federico Valverde runs inside the field.

The second time interval was when the subs came on. Ilkay Gundogan’s introduction enhanced City’s ball control and Real Madrid’s change in the characteristics of their players by introducing Rodrygo in place of Kroos, and Camavinga and Marco Asensio in place of Casemiro and Luka Modric slightly damaged their off ball structure, as before that Valverde regularly moved from the right side towards inside the pitch to support the midfield trio.

Rodri continued winning balls in midfield as City’s in possession game improved with quicker penetrative passes, and they could have scored twice if not for Ferland Mendy’s goal line clearance and Thibaut Courtois brilliant save from Jack Grealish with his left foot.

Then came Real Madrid’s goals and now we were in the third interval. A goal down in the tie, City were entirely focused on overloading the width, especially their left side. Real Madrid reacted by dropping into a back five out of possession to counter City’s attacking approach and held on till the final whistle with another important save from Courtois and an impressive performance from Camavinga.

For more than half the tie, both teams were more or less equal and the changes from Carlo Ancelotti and Pep Guardiola aren’t to be criticized. But football’s also a game of moments, and this is where this tie ended.

Rodrygo’s double brought Real Madrid back into the tie and despite him only scoring 8 goals this season, most of them were crucial. His first, away to Inter Milan, clinched three important points in the group stages of the Champions League.

Another late goal against Chelsea managed to keep Real Madrid in the Champions League, before scoring the first in a 3 goal comeback against Sevilla to establish Real Madrid’s position as league winners five days later.

In addition to the importance of these goals and the fact that Rodrygo didn’t start in any of these games. All of these goals had a similar pattern.

Coming off the bench, Rodrygo usually occupies a position on the right side of Real Madrid’s front-line. But as the attack develops, his clever movement inside the box puts him an optimal position to score. Let’s take the goal against Inter. Initially, Rodrygo is positioned the widest of Real’s front three with the ball on the other side…..

….Alessandro Bastoni and Stefan de Vrij are marking Rodrygo and Benzema respectively in the center of the penalty box, with Nacho Fernandez making a run inside the box.

As the attack developed on the left side, Camavinga combined with Valverde….

…..but our focus here is inside the box. Rodrygo took a couple of steps backwards and dropped behind Nacho and Benzema, whose current positioning occupied De Vrij and Bastoni respectively.

This subtle movement from Rodrygo — dropping deeper after he was the furthest attacker on the right — helped him to escape the marking and be in a dangerous position to attack the near post. So when Camavinga volleyed Valverde’s pass towards the center of the box….

…..Rodrygo was there to strike it past Samir Handanovic. Starting wide, then moving cleverly towards the near post puts Rodrygo in a position where he can be effective inside the box.

The next example is in the league game against Sevilla, Rodrygo as usual is starting wide…

….then as the attack develops on the left side, he starts moving inside. The other factor helping these runs is Benzema, who vacates space for Rodrygo to attack the near post. Here, Benzema drops…

…..creating the illusion that there’s no threat, but once Vinicius Jr backheels the ball into Carvajal….

……Rodrygo moves in-front of Diego Carlos and Marcos Acuna, and makes a near post run….

…..to meet Carvajal’s low cross and bring Real Madrid back into the game.

This was also the case against Chelsea, Rodrygo’s 80th minute goal provided a life line for Ancelotti’s side. Yet, it’s the goal that meant Real are through that is worth inspecting.

Just like the goals above, Real Madrid are attacking down the left side after an unorthodox mistake from N’Golo Kante. And on the far right, Rodrygo’s starting his run…..

….he then starts moving inside with Benzema ready to drop….

……which confuses Antonio Rudiger and causes him to slip, allowing Benzema a free header to win the tie for Real Madrid.

Rodrygo has been bringing Real Madrid back from the dead, and with only added time to go against Manchester City, he still had two in him. Contrary to the examples above, Rodrygo here starts from a central position….

…..and as Camavinga plays the ball into Benzema, Rodrygo puts himself in an excellent position to receive the horizontal pass…,

……his intention is also to receive it towards the near post, that’s why just as Benzema is receiving Camavinga’s pass, Rodrygo was sprinting past Ruben Dias who didn’t look over his shoulder even once.

The final position; Rodrygo at the near post, scoring to bring Real Madrid once again into a game of football.

This was Rodrygo’s moment, as was the previous one, and the previous one.

We have seen this before.

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