World class left-backs are a rarity in the modern game. Roberto Carlos set a benchmark for the marauding full-back during his playing career but other than Ashley Cole in his prime, it’s difficult to pinpoint a standout player in the position. In the Bundesliga however, two have been winning the adulation of the neutral – David Alaba and Ricardo Rodríguez.
The former has impressed since making the starting position in defence his own at Bayern Munich, but it’s the latter who has taken this season by storm thus far. A signing from FC Zürich in January 2012, Rodríguez has begun the current campaign in blistering form, with his average WhoScored rating currently sitting at 8.01, the highest of every regular left-back in Europe’s top 5 leagues this season.
With 2 goals and 2 assists in his opening 14 league fixtures, the 21-year-old has exhibited his attacking capabilities in a team that currently sits 6th in Germany’s top tier. Rodríguez has featured consistently for Die Wölfe since arriving almost 2 years ago, but his influence rose significantly on the back of the appointment of Dieter Hecking last December.
This is encapsulated best in his average rating before and after the 49-year-old took over, with Rodríguez’s figure at a below-par 6.8 from his 28 appearances under the tutelage of Felix Magath and Lorenz-Günther Köstner. However, that figure has risen significantly to a 7.87 in the subsequent 23 appearances with Hecking at the helm.
Despite his relative inexperience, the youngster has turned out a number of performances way beyond his years, and the impressiveness of his league duties saw him feature in WhoScored’s European team of the month in both October and November. His recent display in Wolfsburg’s 1-1 draw with Hamburg also ensured he was in the European team of the week as Rodríguez turned out a man of the match performance in the stalemate.
He earned a rating of 9.9 in the encounter as a result of having netted from the spot, not to mention his 7 tackles, 3 interceptions and 12 successful dribbles. The latter stat reinforces his WhoScored strength of ‘dribbling’, with no player successfully beating an opponent as often in a single Bundesliga match this season as Rodríguez managed against Hamburg.
Of every left-back this term in Europe’s top 5 leagues only Real Sociedad’s José Ángel (10) has garnered a better rating than his Bundesliga counterpart in a single game over the campaign, although Rodríguez makes up 2 of the top 5 individual performances in the position.
Collecting 4 man of the match awards – only Ivan Rakitic, Franck Ribéry, Max Kruse and Alessandro Lucarelli (all 5) have won more on the continent – emphasises how outstanding a season he is enjoying, more so when taking into consideration he plays alongside the likes of Diego and Luiz Gustavo.
Yet, those that have followed Rodríguez during his time with Zürich will be unperturbed by his rise within the game. The full-back exhibited his potential during his time in his country of birth and he’s beginning to live up to the hype surrounding him. It comes as little surprise to see a number of teams across Europe take a shining to the left-back as the transfer window edges ever closer.
Boasting a vast number of statistically calculated WhoScored strengths – key passes, crossing, taking set-pieces and ball interception to add to the previously mentioned dribbling – highlights just how good a player he is, both offensively and defensively. The attacking aspect of his game is what has won Rodríguez so many admirers this term, however, with the Swiss averaging 2.4 successful dribbles, 1.6 key passes and 1.4 shots per game.
Defensively solid having averaged 3.4 tackles, 1.9 interceptions and 3.3 clearances per Bundesliga encounter, not to mention the 11 crosses he’s blocked – only Sebastian Boenisch and Atsuto Uchida (15) have done so more in Germany’s top tier – he’s certainly proven his solidity in the backline and that’s only going to improve as he matures as a player. However, his relative inexperience has contributed to a WhoScored weakness of ‘concentration’; an aspect of his game that can be expected to improve with age.
Having been fouled an average of 1.9 times per game, it’s clear that he is targeted due to the threat he has offered for Wolfsburg as opposition teams look to limit his attacking impact. However, this may well benefit the Bundesliga side, especially in offensive situations where the likes of Diego and Rodríguez can utilise their strengths of ‘taking set-pieces’.
The pairing have executed a total of 17 key passes from dead ball situations this season, denoting their threat from such occasions, while Rodríguez is one of only 13 players to score from a direct free kick in the Bundesliga, aiding in Wolfsburg’s strength of ‘shooting from direct free kicks’. As the stats rightly suggest, the defender is emerging as one of the best young left-backs in the game alongside the likes of Alaba and Southampton’s Luke Shaw.
Rodríguez continues to showcase his immense ability to attack from deep and defend astutely and it’s highly likely that he’ll improve with further playing time. Following the level of his performances to date the Swiss is more than deserving of the plaudits and, with January fast approaching, a team in need of a left-back would be wise to cast a watchful eye over the Volkswagen Arena, and will no doubt admire what they see from one of Europe’s hottest prospects.