'I needed to start from zero' - Marcelo Bielsa set to once again unleash Leeds United man for West Ham visit

Leeds United's club record signing has had to patiently await his opportunity to start under Marcelo Bielsa again.

Thursday, 10th December 2020, 12:02 pm
Updated Thursday, 10th December 2020, 12:06 pm

When Rodrigo lines up to face West Ham on Friday evening it will have been seven weeks to the day since his last Leeds United start.

Patrick Bamford stole the headlines against Aston Villa nearly two months ago, and rightly so after a stunning hat-trick which put Dean Smith's hosts to the sword.

The Whites' club record signing, though, had quietly gone about his business at Villa Park in what was arguably his most complete display since his arrival from Valencia in the summer.

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Leeds United head coach talks to Rodrigo at Stamford Bridge. Pic: Bruce Rollinson

It was a cruel twist of fate that just as the 29-year-old was finding his feet under Marcelo Bielsa's guidance that he was forced to the sidelines.

Due to a positive coronavirus test the Spain international missed defeats against Leicester City and Crystal Palace and was also forced to sit out of the following November international break.

Perhaps more importantly, he had missed two whole weeks of Bielsa's gruelling regime, which left him playing catch up once again such are the demands inside the four walls of Thorp Arch.

On his comeback cameo appearance against Arsenal he came close to scoring not once but twice, as he struck the woodwork from distance in a frustrating 0-0 draw in LS11.

A lack of match minutes saw him feature for the Under-23s side just 24 hours later before again being called to the bench at Everton, where he came on in the dying seconds at Goodison Park to see out a 1-0 victory on Merseyside.

His substitute appearance at Chelsea couldn't stop a 3-1 defeat in the capital, but his impact was again felt as he helped spark United into life in what his head coach later described as their best spell of the game.

"It is true that I was growing a lot before my problem with Covid," Rodrigo reflected.

"I was two weeks out of the squad and I couldn't train, so I needed to start almost from zero. I understand that and the team played really good matches as well after that.

"I need to wait for my opportunity again. Every minute and every time I am on the field in the games I need to take advantage of it and help the team to make a place again in the starting eleven."

Rodrigo will have his spot again and it will be against the Hammers under the Elland Road lights.

Bielsa reverted to type during his pre-match press conference, naming the forward in his line-up for the first time since that impressive night in the Midlands.

Two defensive injury blows in the form of Robin Koch and countryman Diego Llorente may have forced the Argentine's hand, but calls for Rodrigo were already being made such has been his attacking influence so far.

Stuart Dallas will return to defence from midfield, meaning after a near two month road Leeds are finally ready to unleash Rodrigo onto the Premier League highway once again.

"The problem with this level is that you need a lot of time to achieve your maximum level," he admitted.

"If you go one or two weeks without training you lose a lot. Not everything but a big, big part of the preparation.

"I am trying to work hard as always to try to help the team when the gaffer thinks it is necessary."