Scouting report on Leeds United duo Diego Llorente and Rodrigo after Spain keep out Cristiano Ronaldo in Portugal

NEW Leeds United duo Diego Llorente and Rodrigo both excelled for Spain in Wednesday night's friendly in Portugal with both pushing hard for permanent starts for club and country.
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Boss Luis Enrique included both of United's recently acquired Spanish internationals in his line-up for Wednesday's friendly in Lisbon which came just three days before the Nations League hosting of Switzerland on Saturday evening.

Spain will then visit the Ukraine in another Nations League clash on Tuesday evening and Llorente and Rodrigo both enhanced their claims to stay in the side with Rodrigo twice coming close to scoring and Llorente dealing admirably with Juventus superstar Cristiano Ronaldo.

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Signed for £20m from Real Sociedad in the summer, 27-year-old centre-back Llorente has yet to feature for Leeds with the defender not making the bench for the Yorkshire derby at Sheffield United having only signed three days earlier.

Llorente then made the match-day 18 for United's hosting of Manchester City at the weekend and stayed as an unused substitute as skipper Liam Cooper partnered Robin Koch at centre-back in a 1-1 draw.

But four days later, Spain boss Enrique handed Llorente what was still only his sixth cap for Spain and first international outing since the 2-1 loss against Romania back in May 2019 in which Llorente was sent off.

The defender has been an unused substitute on four occasions since and returned straight into the starting line up to face a battle against Ronaldo who lined up as part of a Portugal front three on the left-hand side.

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Llorente was deployed as the right-sided centre-back as part of a back four meaning Ronaldo was essentially Llorente's man as the Whites defender lined up alongside Manchester City's Eric Garcia at the heart of the Spain defence in what was just Garcia's second outing for his country.

KEPT AT BAY: Leeds United's Diego Llorente flies into an attempted block as Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo unleashes a shot in Wednesday night's friendly in Lisbon. Photo by CARLOS COSTA/AFP via Getty Images.KEPT AT BAY: Leeds United's Diego Llorente flies into an attempted block as Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo unleashes a shot in Wednesday night's friendly in Lisbon. Photo by CARLOS COSTA/AFP via Getty Images.
KEPT AT BAY: Leeds United's Diego Llorente flies into an attempted block as Portugal superstar Cristiano Ronaldo unleashes a shot in Wednesday night's friendly in Lisbon. Photo by CARLOS COSTA/AFP via Getty Images.

Llorente could have had his slippers on puffing a cigar such was Spain's dominance for most of the first half but even then the Whites defender's composure on the ball and passing ability were very much in evidence.

Ronaldo was trying his best but being frustrated by Llorente who produced one particularly fine piece of defending to tackle the Juventus star and clear just inside the box.

Portugal then began to threaten towards the end of the half but Llorente and Spain held firm.

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But the second half proved rather more testing as Ronaldo looked to weave his magic yet Llorente stood firm and helped his side to a clean sheet.

SEEN HIM OFF: Cristiano Ronaldo is substituted in the 73rd minute. Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images.SEEN HIM OFF: Cristiano Ronaldo is substituted in the 73rd minute. Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images.
SEEN HIM OFF: Cristiano Ronaldo is substituted in the 73rd minute. Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images.

Spain were fortunate in the sense that Portugal twice hit the crossbar through first Ronaldo and then Renato Sanches who were both afforded the necessary space to produce thunderous shots from similar range outside the box.

But Llorente and Spain ultimately saw Ronaldo off with 'CR7' substituted with 17 minutes left and new Liverpool recruit Diogo Jota then became Llorente's main threat in the closing stages.

Llorente was helped by smart goalkeeping by Kepa to claim a long ball on the edge of his box as Jota looked to ghost in and Spain's defence also survived a couple of nervy moments at corners in the latter stages as Llorente finished the game alongside Real Madrid captain Sergio Ramos who replaced Garcia with eight minutes left.

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Considering Portugal twice rattled the frame of the goal, this was far from a straight-forward clean sheet.

Yet Llorente remained composed throughout and it was noticeable how the Whites centre-back avoided any temptation to lunge into tackles when faced with the likes of Ronaldo running at goal at speed.

It should be remembered that this was also a very inexperienced Spain defence coming up against arguably the greatest player in the world and all in all Llorente produced a very strong performance with the centre-back often carrying the ball into midfield, especially in the latter stages.

The question now is how and when will Llorente become a permanent fixture in the Whites XI as there is not room for Cooper, Koch and Llorente unless Leeds deploy a back three.

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And really the same question also applies to Rodrigo who was superb in the first half before being substituted and arguably better than Llorente.

In what was his 25th outing for his country, Rodrigo lined up on the right side of a Spain front three with RB Leipzig's Dani Olmo on the left and Villareal's Gerard Moreno in the middle.

As part of what was basically a Spanish first-half onslaught, Rodrigo excelled with the 29-year-old twice cutting inside from the right flank to unleash fierce low drives, one of which whistled narrowly wide with the other well held by keeper Rui Patricio.

Rodrigo looked sharp, fit and confident and he was very unlucky when a delightful flicked pass on the edge of the box narrowly failed to cut open the Portugal defence.

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After a fine 45 minutes, Rodrigo's evening was done and based on Wednesday night's display he ought to have every chance of becoming a permanent starter at a time when Enrique is essentially testing the waters with his side and combining experience and youth.

Rodrigo was replaced by former Sociedad team-mate Mikel Merino who was nowhere near as effective while 17-year-old Barcelona sensation Ansu Fati and also Manchester City's exciting 20-year-old summer recruit Ferran Torres stayed on the bench.

This was not a full strength Spain side but on this evidence Rodrigo, and Llorente, ought to still start when it is.

Starters for Spain should surely also be starting for Leeds but such is the competition in Marcelo Bielsa's side it is open to debate as to in what system the duo will get in and who would make way.

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Llorente is clearly a nautral centre-back but the defender has also played as a right back and holding midfielder and it's not difficult to see him blossoming in the latter role if and when required, not that anybody will be taking Kalvin Phillips' place but surely it is only a matter of time before Llorente starts at the heart of the Whited defence.

Rodrigo, meanwhile, has excelled in the no 10 role from the bench in his last two games for Leeds after being brought on at half-time in both the 1-0 win at Sheffield United and 1-1 draw at home to Man City.

Especially with Pablo Hernandez having been out injured of late, the temptation was to think that Rodrigo should start at no 10 behind thriving lone striker Patrick Bamford.

He did, though, look very good on the right side of a front three against Portugal.

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How do Leeds get two Spanish internationals in the side? Talk about a welcome headache.

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Thank you Laura Collins