Rodrigo was better than 2/10 rating and wasn't Leeds United's problem at Southampton but still isn't the solution
Rodrigo was not the problem for Leeds United at Southampton but nor was he a solution.
The Spaniard was also not, as this correspondent believed at full-time at St Mary’s, quite as bad perhaps as a two out of 10 rating would suggest.
Full effort is the bare minimum for any player at any level, anyone can run around and everyone should, so it can only really be credited when married with something resembling successful football actions. Completed passes, shots, tackles won, headers won, successful pressures, goals and assists are all measures by which a player’s performance can be judged.
Rodrigo’s effort level should, however, be noted because while a lot of his went unrewarded and was not attached to actions that benefited him or Leeds, that was not always his fault.
That he left the game on 64 minutes without a single attempted shot to his name said more about Leeds’ struggle to progress the ball from back to front without giving it away than any failure of his.
But the ball did reach Rodrigo on occasion and yet he also left the game without successfully taking on a single Saints player or creating a single chance. He didn’t win any aerial duels and, of his seven individual physical battles, he won only one. He lost possession eight times. These are not the numbers you need from a £27m signing, particularly on a day when three of what anyone would deem marquee players are among six missing from the line-up.
Leeds’ biggest issue was passing the ball out, the expected switch to a back-three that always accompanies a meeting with an opposition fielding a front two, leaving Mateusz Klich largely alone and isolated in the middle and taking away a major arterial route to the Saints’ half.
When they did make it beyond halfway, chiefly through the pace of Daniel James, a fortuitous bounce or, in the second half, improved ball progression, neither James, Jack Harrison, nor anyone else could produce the right cross to service Rodrigo’s penalty-area runs, meaning he touched the ball just once within 18 yards of goal.
Rodrigo’s biggest issue was Mohammed Salisu, a 22-year-old centre-half who also came to the Premier League from LaLiga in August 2020 but, unlike Leeds’ record buy, was described as a ‘long-term project’ by boss Ralph Hasenhuttl as recently as last November. The Ghanaian did not make his English top-flight debut until February and, even then, had to make do with a role as a temporary left-back, starting just eight games in his first season at St Mary’s.
Leeds’ visit to the south coast presented his seventh start of Southampton’s first eight Premier League games at centre-half and the way he dealt with Rodrigo suggests Hasenhuttl’s project has advanced rapidly.
He was on the front foot, winning headers when Leeds resorted to aerial balls in Rodrigo’s direction, the forward hoping to spin in behind if his marker made an error. The only time that worked was the only time Rodrigo managed to put enough pressure on the leaping 22-year-old that he made a mess of the header but, even then, a loose touch allowed Salisu to recover.
On a couple of occasions, Rodrigo’s pressing forced Salisu to go backwards but they were almost always able to bypass the striker easily at the second attempt and Salisu was brave enough to back his mobility and strength to run forward and carry the Saints into Leeds’ half or attempt a pass into feet.
When Rodrigo finally got the ball at his feet, with some space ahead of him to run into, Salisu outmuscled him.
Defensively, Rodrigo was willing but not always able, tracking back to the edge of his own box with varying degrees of success, blocking Moussa Djenepo but then allowing Nathan Redmond to escape him too easily and shoot at Illan Meslier’s goal.
The first half didn’t get much better.
When Tyler Roberts and Harrison combined to push the ball around the corner towards Rodrigo, Salisu got to it first.
When he ensured he was in space to be an option for James, Salisu got to the winger’s cross first.
Making runs that were ignored was a feature, even with the rarity of Leeds attacks. His movement for a Stuart Dallas free-kick was excellent, darting around bodies into a gap to attack a near-post ball that never came. Roberts’ excellent turn was the trigger for another good run but the Welshman took on a wildly optimistic shot.
By the latter stages of the first half, he was playing deeper to try and get involved and restore some balance to a swamped Leeds midfield, albeit to no avail.
Leeds desperately needed someone to put a foot on the ball and play, but Rodrigo fell guilty of the panic-stricken hurry seen in his team-mates passes, hooking a ball over his head to no one instead of looking for an easy option in the centre circle.
His 19 second-half minutes featured no more joy. He wanted an early ball from the breaking Klich but, by the time it reached him, Salisu was goalside. The service might not have been right but Rodrigo was still dispossessed far too easily.
His big moment should have come when Harrison danced into the area, Salisu moving across to block a shot leaving Rodrigo free had the pass inside arrived. Instead, Salisu deflected Harrison’s shot over the bar.
With the Saints going 1-0 up, Rodrigo injected a bit of urgency, his body language was more demonstrative as he demanded the ball yet, when he got it, wide left after an attack had faltered, he lost it again with a poor dribble.
Swapping positions with Roberts for his final six minutes helped little either, a botched flick in the centre circle allowing Saints to hit Leeds on the counter again.
The defeat was not his fault and he should not become a scapegoat, just as Roberts or any other individual should not.
But, as one of the most experienced men on the pitch, with one of the best pedigrees, having cost the club more money than any other individual in history, he has to do more to impact a game. No 22-year-old rookie should have him in his pocket.
That it still cannot be said, after almost 40 appearances, that the club’s most expensive signing was the right one, is a worry.
Raphinha, at least, will return to face Wolves and that might help - the pair have struck up a relationship off the field that helps them on it - but, at a time when injuries are such a problem and Leeds are searching for solutions, Rodrigo, with the help of Bielsa, must find a way to become one.