As it becomes increasingly clear that Real Madrid will not be making a move for a forward this summer, it provides a golden chance to Rodrygo Goes to establish himself as one third of the next Real Madrid trident.
The Brazilian has impressed since arriving from Santos as a teenagr, but now he has the chance to kick on. This season could become an audition to prove that he is the successor on the right flank of attack and can provide a long-term solution, ridding the club of the need to spend millions on a new addition.
Having continually grown, with a greater impact than ever before under Carlo Ancelotti in 2021/22, Rodrygo can set himself five clear goals to establish himself as one of the first picks.
1: Establish himself as first-choice on the right
Having doubled his number of minutes played between 2020/21 and 2021/22, Rodrygo is making fast progress, but he still only played 45.5% of minutes available. Even towards the end of the season, when his minutes began to rack up, his best moments came as an impact substitute against Paris Saint-Germain and Manchester City.
Across LaLiga and the Champions League, Rodrygo did not play a full 90 minutes until the 3-1 win over Osasuna on April 20th with one hand already on the title. Even before that, in the Copa del Rey, his only appearance where he wasn’t subbed off came in the defeat to Athletic Club.
This season, there’s an opportunity. Marco Asensio could still depart as he enters the final 12 months of his contract, Gareth Bale and Isco have both moved on, and Eden Hazard and Vinícius Júnior both prefer to play on the left. That leaves Rodrygo as the leading choice as a naturally offensive option on the right.
Rumours have begun to circulate that Real Madrid are already working on a contract extension, despite Rodrygo having three years left on his existing deal. While the club is planning for a future without Asensio, they are already planning how to involve Rodrygo, and that must be backed up by the belief of coach Ancelotti.
2: Open up the xG differential
In 2019/20, Rodrygo exceeded his xG across the season by 2.58, but he has only exceeded xG by 0.53 over the two seasons since. Rodrygo has long been a more prolific finisher than many of the other wide options in the Real Madrid squad, and both his movement and clinicality in front of goal suggest that he could be lethal.
The positive is that he can look to keep up the momentum that he found at the end of last season. In the final seven games of the campaign, he scored five goals from just 2.67 xG. It may be hard to judge in too much detail given that three of those goals came in LaLiga with top spot secured, but it’s a positive sign.
If the Brazilian is to step up his game in 2022/23, he needs to maintain that end of season form. He can look to his team-mate, Vinícius, for inspiration. After underscoring his xG by 5.37 over the past two seasons, 2021/22 saw him exceed it by 6.36. That kind of turnaround in performance will give Rodrygo hope of improving this area of his game.
3: Improve his pressing
When we take a look at Ancelotti’s preferences towards the end of the season, with Vinícius Júnior and Fede Valverde in the two wide positions, we can say that their pressing was important to Real Madrid’s overarching system. Valverde’s flexibility and energy in the final third, in particular, helped to nail him down a spot in the team for the decisive fixtures of the season.
At 17.5 pressing actions per 90, Rodrygo finds himself located perfectly between the two in terms of how often he presses, with his compatriot at 19.4 and the Uruguayan at 15.6. It’s a factor which does set him apart, given that Marco Asensio’s pressing actions per 90 came in at a measly 10.6 and Eden Hazard’s were even lower at 10.
However, his success rate is not up to scratch. Success rates in overturning possession of 31.3% for Valverde and 28.9% for Vinícius are stark improvements in comparison with Rodrygo’s 23.7%. While Rodrygo presses more than Valverde, the latter is smarter in how he presses and achieves greater results. It’s an area of improvement for the 21-year-old, who has been let down by the defensive side of his game at times.
4: Be more daring in the final third
When we look at Rodrygo’s progression stats, we can see yet another area where he has exceptional potential but doesn’t quite live up to the performances of players like Vinícius and Valverde. He is a nuisance in the attacking third of the pitch, but his final balls can be disappointing as he sometimes struggles to progress the ball effectively.
The difference comes in the number of progressions in the final third, where Vinícius has 3.55 per 90 and Valverde has 3.48, while Rodrygo is off the pace at 1.95. That also reflects the distance progressed, where Vinícius leads the ranking and Valverde sits in fourth among the Real Madrid squad, while Rodrygo ranks 11th.
It could also link to his dribbling. Unlike his compatriot in attack, Rodrygo isn’t a player who will carry the ball huge distances at his feet. Vini averaged 10.39 dribbles per 90 last season, compared to only 6.1 for Rodrygo. His pace and technique is impressive enough to give him the ability to take more players on, and with confidence that could become a core element of his game.
5: Become a fan favourite
“I arrived home after a match. I had a shirt from Real Madrid in my house and my father came into the room with that shirt and another one from Barcelona and he said ‘now, choose’. And I chose the Real Madrid one,” Rodrygo told the Jota Jota podcast as he enjoyed his summer vacation. As any Madridista would tell him, that’s a sure-fire way to soar in popularity.
In a fascinating interview, Rodrygo opened up on his character and showed his personal side in detail for the first time. From revealing a telling off from Marcelo on his pre-season debut to his motivation to beat Mohamed Salah in the Champions League final, he certainly knows how to talk a good game.
That kind of personality appeals to many at Real Madrid, who want to see a player with bravado and confidence in their team. With historic moments under his belt despite his limited playing time, talking a good game, and plenty of potential, he has all the ingredients required to quickly become a very popular figure at the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu.