Leeds United’s Rodrigo recovery task revealed as Whites must defy pattern and percentages for survival

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Leeds United have not enjoyed the luxury of having their attacking players fit and available throughout their time in the Premier League and this season has been no different

The Whites have reached a point in their season where goals are at a premium. In five of their last seven fixtures, Leeds have failed to find the back of the net. Coincidentally, it is seven matches since Rodrigo picked up an injury in Leeds’ 3-1 FA Cup win over Accrington Stanley, a game in which he was brought on with the team already three goals up.

The 32-year-old Spaniard is United’s top scorer this season with 10 Premier League goals and a further two strikes in the FA Cup. Without him in the side, Leeds have appeared listless up front, and even when creating plenty as they did against Fulham last week, unable to hit the target.

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Head coach Javi Gracia is yet to work with Rodrigo at Leeds, at least not on a matchday, as the Spain international is currently recovering from an ankle injury which was initially forecasted to keep him out of action until after this month’s international break.

Leeds are in need of goals but their main source is out injured. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)Leeds are in need of goals but their main source is out injured. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)
Leeds are in need of goals but their main source is out injured. (Photo by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images)

There is hope the pair, who fleetingly worked together at Valencia before Leeds swooped in the summer of 2020, can deliver the goals which will guarantee Premier League football for a fourth successive season – Gracia from the dugout; Rodrigo on the pitch.

Getting Leeds’ top scorer match-ready and back on the field is imperative – and a hallmark of successful sides.

This season, ten players have scored ten-or-more Premier League goals, including Rodrigo. Seven of those have featured in at least 90 per cent of their team’s available league minutes, while all but Rodrigo have played at least 74 per cent of the time.

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Leeds’ No. 19 has appeared in just over half of Leeds’ available league minutes this season: 58 per cent. Worryingly, this is the highest figure among Leeds’ attackers who have been with the club since September 1, 2022.

Willy Gnonto, signed on deadline day last summer, arrived from FC Zurich but initially featured for the Under-21 side before forcing his way into the first-team picture. He has played just 44 per cent of Leeds’ league minutes this season. Patrick Bamford has battled repeated injuries once again, featuring just 37 per cent of the time, although that is a 21 per cent improvement on last season. Meanwhile, summer addition Luis Sinisterra has been on the pitch for just 24 per cent of Leeds’ season.

A lack of continuity in attack had not hindered them too greatly until their recent run of form, which coincided with Rodrigo’s spell on the sidelines, largely due to the fact the Spaniard was overperforming his Expected Goals and burying chances on a regular basis. Now, with Leeds’ precarious league position and uncertainty over return dates, it is very much a concern.

Compared to those performing in a similar vein to Rodrigo in front of goal, Leeds as a whole fall short. The following figures are players with ten-or-more Premier League goals and the percentage of available league minutes in which they have appeared for their club sides this season.

99% Harry Kane

99% Mohamed Salah

96% Bukayo Saka

91% Ivan Toney

91% Marcus Rashford

91% Miguel Almiron

90% Gabriel Martinelli

87% Erling Haaland

74% Aleksandar Mitrovic

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If Leeds are to give themselves a fighting chance of surviving the drop, they must start by getting – and keeping – their strikers fit. No more can they rely on patchwork solutions or throwing the likes of 20-year-old pair Joe Gelhardt and Georginio Rutter in at the deep end, even if they were fortunate in that regard with Gelhardt’s contributions last season.

Tottenham, Manchester City, Man United, Brentford and Liverpool haven’t had to rely on a Gelhardt-esque problem-solver – they all occupy places in the top half of the table and their star forwards have all featured over 90 per cent of the time.

Javi Gracia’s decision to introduce 19-year-old Under-21s forward Mateo Joseph against Chelsea last weekend was borne out of necessity; Rutter had played for over an hour chasing shadows and grown tired.

Expediting Rodrigo, Patrick Bamford and Luis Sinisterra’s recovery may not be the smartest course of action due to the risk of re-injury, but protecting them once they are reintroduced to the first-team fold is a must.

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