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The Battle Of The Right: Asensio vs Rodrygo

An evaluation of Carlo Ancelotti’s most viable options at right-wing.

Real Madrid v Real Mallorca - La Liga Santander Photo by David S. Bustamante/Soccrates/Getty Images

Real Madrid have played 13 of their league campaing and more than half of their group-stage games in the UEFA Champions League. It’s safe to say, at this juncture, Carlo Ancelotti knows who 10 guaranteed starters in his preferred XI are: Thibaut Courtois, Dani Carvajal, Eder Militao, David Alaba, Ferland Mendy, Casemiro, Luka Modric, Toni Kroos, Vinicius Jr, and Karim Benzema.

The one remaining spot probably gives Ancelotti a bit of a headache (or raises his eyebrows a bit). With Gareth Bale’s chronic injuries continuing their usual course and Lucas Vazquez being seen as more of a back-up to Carvajal than as a starting right-winger, Ancelotti’s shortlist comes down to Marco Asensio and Rodrygo Goes.

If Rogrygo had not been injured after an impressive run of games, we probably would not have been having this conversation right now. Ancelotti had to scrap the idea of playing Asensio as a central midfielder (at least temporarily) and gave the Spaniard an opportunity at right-wing. Asensio has actually done well enough in Rodrygo’s absence to create a claim of his own to start beside Vinicius Jr and Karim Benzema in Real Madrid’s front line.

There are some fundamental differences between Marco Asensio and Rodrygo Goes and the most significant of those is related to their core positioning. As seen on their heatmaps for the season so far, Asensio likes to stay closer to the right half-space whereas Rodrygo prefers to hug the sideline.

Their positioning translates into other aspects of their game. Asensio likes to take players on from deeper and more-central positions. Rodrygo mostly engages in such moves wider and higher up the pitch.

Both Asensio and Rodrygo stay true to their positioning while progressing the ball as well. Asensio tries to move closer to the space between the left center-back and the left-back of the opponent to dart inside the box. Rodrygo on the other hand, likes to take the left-back on. His primary goal is to go deep and whip in crosses. Asensio, as a left-footed player, adheres more to his urge to cut on his stronger foot to shoot or pass.

As demonstrated in these two sequences, Asensio picks the ball from Toni Kroos from a fairly deep position and continues his run towards’s the opponent's right half-space before he can shoot.

Rodrygo however, remains wider by default on such instances to stretch the pitch wide and create crossing opportunities for the other advancing forwards.

In terms of productivity, Asensio marginally edges out Rodrygo. Asensio has an xG of 0.40 per90 compared to Rodrygo’s 0.20. Asensio’s numbers are probably a bit inflated due to his hat-trick vs. Mallorca. In terms of shot-creating actions per90, Asensio (4.06) and Rodrygo (3.73) remain pretty close as they do for goal-creating actions per90 (Asensio 0.65 and Rodrygo 0.51). For pressing sequences per90, Rodrygo (17.5) did significantly better than Asensio (11.5). But Asensio recovers five balls per90 compared to Rodrygo’s 3.39.

Asensio and Rodrygo are unlikely to be as prolific as Benzema and Vinicius are. But in both of them, Carlo Ancelotti has two players of rather different profiles but similar levels of productivity. Which is probably a good headache to have for a manager.