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How Rafa Benitez can adapt his system to accommodate Everton superstar

Will one of the most technically gifted players to ever play for the Blues be warming the bench?

Real Madrid Training Session Photo by Angel Martinez/Real Madrid via Getty Images

Despite heavy speculation all summer long, continuing also into the final days of the Turkish transfer window, James Rodriguez will be staying put, for the time being at least. Despite never officially announcing James was not in Rafa Benitez’s plans, it became increasingly clear that the Colombian was one of many players Everton were happy to sell in the summer. Due to the excessive wage demands of James, no club could manage to get a deal over the line despite interest, it seemed, from the likes of Porto, AC Milan and Istanbul Basaksehir.

In this article, I will be taking a look at how Everton can utilise James Rodriguez and try fit him into the successful system Rafa has implemented so far this season. It would be a shame to have a player of his talent rotting on the bench, right?

Firstly, lets take a look at what James has offered to Everton so far. It seems like a distant memory seeing James scoring at Old Trafford, setting up Richarlison at Liverpool away or running the show at home to Brighton. James supplied 10 goals / assists in just 21 starts for Everton last season, the highest per game ratio in the whole Everton team. He averaged 0.28 expected assists per 90, the highest in the team. This was also 5th highest in the whole of the Premier League. He created 13 goal creating actions, despite missing almost half the season. Again, the most in the team. These are just a few stats to show how creative and effective James is and hopefully can be this season.

James Rodriguez worked under Rafa during his time at Real Madrid so the Spaniard will be no stranger to the ability that James possesses. Despite the fact James Rodriguez featured playing off the right side of midfield almost half of the times he played for Everton last season, it’s very unlikely if he is in the team that he will be playing in this position. Rafa asks a lot of all his players in both phases of play during a game, attacking and defending. After a fantastic game against Brighton, Rafa will definitely be impressed with the defensive work rate of Andros Townsend.

Andros Townsend, defensive stats 2020-21 season

Above we can see Andros Townsend’s defensive actions per 90 over the last year. Coupling these stats with the fact Everton have had an average of 37.5% possession so far this season, you can see why Rafa Benitez thought Townsend would be a perfect fit. Countering this, when Demarai Gray plays on the left hand side of midfield, he hasn’t been asked to track back as much as Townsend. From what I’ve noticed, Rafa is happy as long as one of his wide players is tracking back. Richarlison, due to his sheer passion, is often seen inside his own penalty box trying to win the ball back, so we may see him on one side of the midfield to accommodate James.

Similar set-up to game against Brighton

In the formation above, it’s a similar setup to the one we saw against Brighton. With James playing off the right, he will naturally drift inside and Gray who we have seen countless times already this season, can find space in the gaps created by James. Gray, Richarlison and James can create a fluid front 3 behind Calvert-Lewin in this formation, constantly interchanging which gives the opposition defence lots of headaches. With the current injury to Seamus Coleman, I believe this to be the least likely setup at the moment. This is due to the fact if we’re playing Jonjoe Kenny or an out of position player at right back, Andros Townsend’s defensive work is going to be pivotal.

Now, I’d love to sit here and reel off 4 or 5 different styles and setups I can see Rafa using to shoehorn in James Rodriguez but the likelihood is it’s going to be one of three positions for James, with one of these including the subs bench. The other position which we often saw James playing in last season was just behind the striker. At times he was given the freedom of Goodison and allowed to float about between the defence and midfield finding pockets and creating space like he does so well.

James in the CAM position

With James in the number ten position here, the defensive responsibility will once again be on Richarlison to help track back due to the lack of defensive work rate we often see from James. The Colombian will drift about, dropping deep and spraying passes and getting in-between the lines to thread through balls. You will unlikely see James in this position against top eight teams this season, or even on the pitch at all. You sacrifice a lot of defensive work rate in order to play James. His defensive actions per 90 in comparison to a lot of players in his position in the top 5 league is very weak.

James Rodriguez, defensive stats 2020-21 season

If you compare this to Andros Townsend earlier in the article, you can see why in a defensive system he is a lot more suited.

To summarise, after looking at the creative statistics of James last season, I’m desperate to see him accommodated in this Everton side. Unfortunately, it may not be viable and due to Rafa working with him previously and understanding his lack of defensive work rate, we may struggle to see him much this season. Against top six opposition and teams that will dominate possession, the Blues will continue to play like they did against Leeds United, holding their defensive shape and using lightning-quick counter-attacks to create opportunities, not unlike Leicester City when they first burst into the top six.

However, it’s the winnable games against lower half opposition and defensive, low block shaped teams like Burnley, that may be the perfect opportunity to unleash James in the #10 position, and let him best use his talents to thread the needle and find gaps with which to expose defences.

Hopefully we see the 30 year old next Monday, in front of a packed out Goodison Park for the first time.

Hope you enjoyed the article, please let me know what you think in the comments or over on my Twitter - @TacticallyEv