Marco Asensio’s injury and Gareth Bale’s constantly evolving transfer drama have put Real Madrid’s right-wing spot in a state of uncertainty. As things stand, it looks like the young Vinícius Júnior will go into the season as Real Madrid’s starting player on that flank, which is slightly suboptimal at best and a gamble at worst.
At the risk of taking away far too much from preseason friendlies, Vinícius playing on the right has appeared to alter his game away from the thing that made him such a revelation last season — cutting inside and attacking goal.
I feel comfortable making such an early claim based on limited footage because it agrees with basic footballing wisdom; namely, that it is more difficult to access the inside of the field when your lead foot is closer to the touchline. Hence, Vinícius’ visible struggles when trying to cut inside:
However, there is also good reason to believe that Vinícius will adapt to that position well. As the last clip showed, Vinícius is not completely incapable of maneuvering his way into central positions from the right, and his game is clearly about more than just that.
Vinícius showed flashes of crossing genius in preseason — the height, whip, and curve on his deliveries looked polished beyond his years — and a big part of his dribbling threat last season came from sprinting down the touchline and taking the long route towards goal.
But betting on a seamless Vinícius transition to the right-wing seems unwise, especially given the depth behind him. The extremely raw Brahim Díaz is scheduled to miss all of preseason thanks to a hamstring injury, Lucas Vázquez’s value comes from being an elite backup, not a starter, and expecting an 18-year-old Rodrygo Goes to be the primary right-winger if the experiment fails is downright unfair.
Consequently, it’s pretty clear that Real Madrid need another right-winger. The simplest solution would be to accept that Bale is going nowhere and that he can still contribute at a level similar to past seasons. But I wouldn’t blame you if you were nervous about age-related decline, Bale getting injured for half the season, or how the broken Zidane-Bale relationship would affect things.
Like with Vinícius’ positional transition, betting on Bale doesn’t seem like the smartest thing to do.
So, what are Madrid’s options?
Madrid could try to go out and sign someone, but I dare you to find a more cost-effective and flat out superior footballing target than James Rodríguez.
Despite the persistence of the theory that James cannot play on the wing, he has shined nearly every time he has operated on the right. The 4-4-2 with James and Isco on the flanks produced the best football in the Carlo Ancelotti era, and James has continued to manufacture insane numbers when shifted to that position throughout the ensuing seasons.
James’ expected assists numbers from the right-wing stand close to Lionel Messi levels (Messi has averaged 0.48 expected assists p90 in the league from 2014/15 onwards) and the former Bayern Munich man has a track record of consistently beating his expected goals figures no matter where he plays.
All-in-all, James creates one goal every game, something no other player on Madrid’s squad has been capable of in the post-Cristiano Ronaldo era.
To pass up that level of production given Madrid’s current right-wing predicament would be absurd, and there is speculation that Florentino seems to agree. James is also fairly underrated defensively because we’ve seen him be exposed when playing against the ball in a deeper central midfield position. Being deployed higher up the field suits him better in these cases, where his work-rate and eagerness to press make him a defensive asset.
At a certain point the needs of the team transcend personal squabbles and it would be an incredible shame if Zidane’s apparent distaste for James prevented the 28-year-old from coming back.
With Asensio injured for the long-term, Bale in limbo, and a bunch of youngsters and a backup left to pick up the slack, it doesn’t feel melodramatic to say that the decision Zidane makes, here, could end up deciding the season.
Should Real Madrid Keep James Rodríguez?
This poll is closed
Yes, and play him on the right-wing.
Yes, but don’t play him on the right-wing.