'I'm really close' - Rodrigo on Leeds United form, Whites goalscoring solution and Patrick Bamford difference
No-one needs to tell Rodrigo that Leeds United need more from him, even in what he calls one of his ‘best moments’ since signing.
Marcelo Bielsa has always been adamant that the player Leeds smashed their transfer record to bring in from Valencia was a great one and at times the Spaniard has looked the part.
What Bielsa said last season about Rodrigo needing a run of games to play his best football rang true in the final four outings, and if more evidence was needed, the way he played against Watford in a third consecutive 90-minute appearance provided it.
The two games prior to that saw some very good football and some not so good, from a player who expects better from himself.
The court of popular opinion sways in a way Bielsa does not, but all would surely agree the striker is heading in the right direction.
“I always expect something else from myself,” said Rodrigo as the first week of the international break came to a close.
“It’s true that I think I’m playing well but I always have something to improve, always have something to do better, but to be honest at the same time I am very happy to play a lot of games in a row and in my opinion help the team with good performances.”
What Rodrigo has shown, particularly in the last two games, is not quite his best form but something approaching it.
“I think I am really close to it,” he said.
“I have some small things to polish and to try to improve, but I think I am on a good way now, I am really happy with my performances and the last games, especially when we win because that’s why we are here.
“I think I am probably in one of my best moments here and I just want to work to maintain it and of course to improve.”
Becoming more prolific is one of Rodrigo’s self-prescribed areas of improvement, having scored seven in 26 Premier League appearances last season but failed to get on the scoresheet in any of his eight appearances this season.
Fellow attacker Bamford led the way for Leeds on their top flight return with 17 but he too has found them hard to come by in the current campaign, an instinctive finish at Burnley his only goal so far.
Although it could be argued that Leeds’ offensive game is currently not quite as slick as it has been under Bielsa, Rodrigo says Leeds are creating sufficient opportunities, so hard work is the answer to the goalscoring conundrum.
“I would like to score more goals, it’s true that I’m trying to do my best but it’s true that I feel that I can do better,” he said.
“I think the team is creating a lot of chances for everyone. In the game against Newcastle we created a lot of chances, in the game against West Ham, the same, and especially the other day [Watford] I think we did our best game, we dominated from the beginning until the end.
"We create enough chances to for sure score more goals. But sometimes in football it happens – you create a lot of chances and you don’t score enough. Sometimes you have the opposite.
"The game against Burnley for example, we didn’t create too many chances and we drew the game with a play from nothing. We just have to keep working.
“Apart from the collective drills we do for finishing, for crosses, the attacking players we all try to do an extra work or an extra job to try to get confidence and to improve. That’s part of our day by day here.”
Rodrigo has been without fellow forward Patrick Bamford for the last few weeks in training at Thorp Arch, due to the latter’s injured ankle.
Bielsa, thus far, has opted for a Rodrigo and Bamford scenario, rather than a Rodrigo or Bamford selection dilemma, playing the Spaniard behind the Englishman.
The absence of Bielsa’s first choice number nine has handed Rodrigo a chance to shine as the lone striker, particularly against Watford, when it was evident that he adds his own twist to the role.
He played predominantly with his back to goal, looking for first-time flicks and passes around the corner to spring wingers or midfielders free.
Bamford has also been known to drop in to help link attacks, but he can often be found further forward, attempting to run off the shoulder of the last defender and offering a focal point closer to goal than the one Rodrigo gives Leeds.
The former Valencia man says the variety in their profiles is a good thing for Leeds.
“I think Patrick is an amazing player but it’s clear that we have different styles, we are different players,” he said.
“When I play as a number nine I drop a little bit more than him, he looks more for the spaces and he’s more a number nine who stays in the area waiting for the chance. I try to help in the construction, to be able to go to the sides also to help the wingers.
“In football you have different styles of players, defensive full-backs, offensive full-backs, midfielders who can play box to box or more defensive ones, number nines who play more in the area and number nines who have more mobility.
“That’s very good for the group, you have players in one position who have different styles of football.”
The other side of the game is something Bamford has all but mastered, leading the high press with intensity from start to finish.
Rodrigo is yet to match Bamford in that regard, although it’s not for want of trying. Last season at Newcastle Jonjo Shelvey told the Spaniard to stand still for a minute because he was ‘running around like a nutcase.’
Shelvey derided some of the running as ‘pointless’, but Rodrigo gets the point of what Bielsa wants him to do.
He also gets what transformed Leeds from a mid-table Championship outfit to a side who finished in the Premier League top 10,
“I think playing against us is really uncomfortable, you almost always have a player behind you, you never feel free or with time to think what you’re going to do with the ball because immediately when you get the ball you receive pressure from a player,” he said.
“We are a really well prepared team from a physical point of view so that means you think that we start the game at a high intensity and it will decrease but it doesn’t happen. We are able to maintain a high intensity during the 90 minutes. For us it’s really demanding, really hard to maintain this intensity for 90 minutes through the whole season. I think it’s one of our secrets.
The secret of Leeds is of course in the individual but also in the way we work as a collective.”
As a collective there is plenty of room for improvement. As an individual, Rodrigo can undoubtedly offer more. His best moments at Leeds United should all be ahead of him.