LEEDS NEW MAN: HOW WILL RAPHINHA FIT INTO BIELSA'S TEAM?
Leeds United start to the Premier League under Marcelo Bielsa has begun how many had predicted; an expansive outfit who always look to be the protagonists of the game, even against the ‘Big Boys’. In their first four games, they have already played Champions Liverpool and runners up Manchester City, playing out an entertaining 4-3 defeat to the Reds and more than earning a point against City in their second home game at Elland Road. Overall, the Whites have made an excellent start as a newly promoted team.
However, the team that won the Championship on July 18 last season is looking concerningly like this seasons squad, with Spanish International forward and record signing Rodrigo being the only arrival with top-class firepower and a first 11 that will quickly burnout due to Bielsa’s gung-ho setup and the Premier Leagues unforgiving nature. It appears that Leeds may struggle to prosper in the top flight. Enter Brazilian right-winger Raphinha.
Raphinha was announced as a Leeds player on October 6 from Ligue 1 leaders Stade Rennes for £17 million, with the winger securing a four-year deal at the West Yorkshire club.
The Brazilian had only just joined Rennes for £20m in the 2019 summer transfer window from Portuguese side Sporting Lisbon. But after only 32 appearances for the French side, he’s moved to the Bielsa led Leeds, a manager notorious for maximising offensive player’s potential.
The 23-year-old has spent the majority of his career playing on the right side of a front three as an inverted winger, a role most successful sides deploy in the modern game: Mohammed Salah for Liverpool, Angel Di Maria for PSG and Riyad Mahrez for Manchester City.
Being able to dribble infield on your stronger foot allows for the pitch to be opened up and more dangerous opportunities to arrive as the player is closer towards the goal; James Rodriguez’s strong start at Everton epitomises this.
Having watched him in his maiden season at Rennes this is a key characteristic of his play in possession. He is always looking to go inside, whether to link up with the striker or to create a shooting chance himself. His eagerness to combine with fellow forwards will be something Patrick Bamford and Jack Harrison will be keen to see in action.
The Brazilian also possesses great dribbling technique, averaging 2.2 dribbles per game in Ligue 1 last season, being remarkably like Mahrez in that regard. The ball looks glued to his left boot when isolating his opposite man and once he has him frozen, he darts inside and leaves him for dead.
He can move across the pitch well but is not blessed with the blistering pace that you would associate with a Salah or Nicolas Pepe. This means he relies on that wicked Brazilian flair and deceiving body feints to get an extra yard of space and create an opening in the final third.
In terms of his output, in 32 appearances for Rennes, he scored eight and assisted five. This is a decent return for an opening year in a new league but nothing to make Europe take great notice of.
However, it’s the eight big chances created in these games that made Bielsa hungry to bring him in; having a striker in Bamford that relies on a high volume of chances to rack up goals will make Raphinha’s eye for a killer pass even more valuable to Leeds.
Signing Raphinha also facilitates healthy competition within Bielsa’s side, with him and Helder Costa - who was signed on a permanent deal for £16m this summer - now vying for that right-wing spot in the starting line-up. Competition for places is always welcomed in team dynamics as Costa must now improve his performance levels or risk being shunted to the bench, providing Raphinha hits the ground running in England.
Overall, Raphinha possesses the perfect characteristics for a Bielsa winger; a superb technician who persists with hitting the opposition where it hurts and always wants to combine quickly with teammates. Leeds will hope he can settle into England quickly and not only keep them in the top flight, but help them play in the style that Bielsa craves above all else.