Leeds Unted: Rodrigo ready to ‘leader on the pitch’ at Elland Road

Jesse Marsch says Rodrigo keeps rising to challenges, which is just as well, because Patrick Bamford’s injury might see him captaining Leeds United and leading the line against Chelsea’s formidable defensive unit.
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The American says he has not ruled out Bamford and Liam Cooper returning after injury against the Blues, and will make a decision today ahead of the Premier League game tomorrow.

But Bamford told the club’s podcast earlier in the week he expected the groin problem which forced him off at Southampton to keep him out of the Elland Road game against his old club.

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When Bamford went off at St Mary’s, Rodrigo took the captain’s armband, pushed up to centre-forward and scored twice – goals which should have brought a victory but instead only a 2-2 draw.

Leeds United's Rodrigo. Picture: Adam Davy/PALeeds United's Rodrigo. Picture: Adam Davy/PA
Leeds United's Rodrigo. Picture: Adam Davy/PA

Nevertheless, they took the Spanish international to six goals in 14 matches since the American coach started his charm offensive on a player who, hampered by injury and Covid-19, flattered to deceive under Marcelo Bielsa.

“He’s always very fit, but he’s come in really fit and very determined from pre-season,” commented Marsch, who has the option of a fit-again Joe Gelhardt if he prefers to play Rodrigo deeper. “He’s taken a lot of the things that he and I – and we – have talked about in terms of the principles that we’re trying to institute every day and applied them more and more at a higher and higher level.

“He’s had an outstanding pre-season and then three goals in the first two (league) matches so it’s not random, I think it’s a culmination of him adapting to the league, to me, to what we’re trying to achieve, and the confidence has grown in him massively.

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“I was saying to him that of our entire leadership council now he’s one of the guys that we know will be starting, he’ll wear the captain’s armband (when needed), he’ll be ready to take penalties, he’ll be ready to be a leader on the pitch and he’ll be ready to execute the matchplan at the highest level of his quality.

“I think that says a lot about him in how he’s adapted and how he’s risen to the challenge and difficult moments.”

Despite that, Marsch would be more comfortable if he can sign another striker this month, having been beaten to £35m-rated Charles de Ketelaere by AC Milan.

“I still feel to balance our squad effectively it would be helpful but we need the right guy,” he said.

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“I don’t want someone that’s going to take three months to adapt and educate and then not be ready to help us.

“The variables are do they understand the type of football we want to play, do they understand the league quality, can they play at this kind of level, can they run and press at the level and be ready to play and intelligent enough to execute our matchplans? Those are the factors.

“It’s who is that guy?”

Wilfried Gnoto is not yet “that guy” but Leeds hope to add the 18-year-old Italian to their busy stable of players for the future.

“I didn’t even know that (news of Leeds’s bid for the Zurich striker) is out there but we know who he is and it would be more of a long-term project so you can maybe read into that if it’s going to happen in this window or if it can’t, in the future,” said Marsch.

Not that he has given up on a ready-made centre-forward.

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“Every manager wants as many good players in their team as possible,” he added. “We still have time (the transfer window closes at 11pm on September 1) and I think there will be movement with us and with other teams. I think some dominoes will start to fall and then we have to be prepared to act on those situations.

“It’s a long time since our last transfer but the conversations and the work behind the scenes has been very, very active.”

The Whites will need to be at their best to break Chelsea down defensively tomorrow.

“Their backline now with (Kalidou) Koulibaly and (Marc) Cucurella has intelligence, experience, quality, athleticism and a great goalkeeper (Edouard Mendy) behind them,” said Marsch.

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Meanwhile, Leeds have reiterated their plea to supporters not to run onto the pitch, as happened again at full-time versus Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Coming onto the pitch is a criminal offence the footballing authorities are keen to stamp it out. One-year Elland Road bans are being processed for two children who ran on last season and their guardians.