The 2014 FIFA World Cup saw many new talents emerging and making a name of themselves on the big stage. James Rodríguez of Columbia was one of them. His famous volley against Uruguay, which also won the Puskas that year, led him to the Golden Boot that World Cup. The Columbian then signed for Real Madrid for a fee of €75.00m. James was already on course to become one of the world’s biggest star in football. But unfortunately, all didn’t go as planned and he soon lost his way at Madrid. At 29, he has now moved to Everton to play under his old boss Carlo Ancelloti.

When everyone saw this as a step down in his career (which it probably is), it seems like he has found his old self back at Everton and looks better than ever. With three goals and two assists in four matches, he has taken the Premier League by a storm. In this scout report, we will discuss how James Rodríguez has fitted in Ancelotti’s tactics and how he has regained his old form. 

Link-up with Coleman and Doucouré

One of the main reasons Everton are doing so well in the initial stages of the league is Ancelotti’s ability to unlock the best qualities of his players. The manager has deployed the 29-year old on the left side of the front three comprising of him, Calvert-Lewin, and Richarlison. Abdoulaye Doucouré and Seamus Coleman accompany him on the right-hand side of the team.

In the midfield, Doucouré runs forward the most. This is because James likes to drop deep and open up spaces for runners behind them. When James drops deep, it is either Doucouré or Coleman who runs in the open spaces. While Coleman looks for the overlap behind the full-back, Doucouré targets the half-spaces. The movement of these three players confuses the opponents and forces them to commit mistakes like leaving their position or committing more players than required. The three form triangles throughout the attacking phase. 

James receives the ball on the right flank and carries it inside while Coleman goes for the overlap. Meanwhile, Doucoure runs towards James to support him.
James passes it to Doucouré who can turn and attack. We can see in the picture that Coleman continues his run and takes one of the defenders with him. The movement between the trio opens up space for the team.

The trio of James, Doucouré, and Coleman has delivered until now this season and their chemistry and linkup are one of the biggest reasons for their early-season success. Everton’s first goal against Crystal Palace earlier this season is a perfect example of how well the three have linked up in a short amount of time.

We have seen before that James likes to moves inside leaving space for Coleman to run into. He does the same here. Doucouré stays back and covers for Coleman. With Coleman in acres of space, Gomes plays a pin-point pass towards him.

Coleman runs forward with the ball a little and passes it back to Doucouré. See how the trio is still maintaining the triangle. The Columbian drifts from the midfielders and is in acres of space. Coleman makes a darting run behind the defensive line.

Doucouré passes the ball to James and here we see his brilliance as he plays the perfected weighted through ball to Coleman with his weaker foot.

Ability to switch

It is common to see opponents overloading one side of the pitch because of the qualitative superiority of the attacking team. Ancelotti has used The Columbian’s passing intelligence to its best. Having a left-footed player on the right flank opens a new dynamic for the team as he can cut inside. When James drops deep into the midfield he looks to switch the play. This way the team make sure that the opposition has to cover both the flanks equally well. The more you spread the play, the more open spaces and holes you tend to find.

The trio of James-Doucouré-Coleman forces the same out of their opponents. As they form triangles on the right-hand side of the attack, it is common to see the opponents flooding that side with their players. This creates huge open spaces on the left-hand side of the pitch where both Richarlison and Lucas Digne remain wide. When the team is in a situation discussed above, he uses his wonder of a left foot with his exquisite passing ability to switch the play.

Coleman, Doucouré, and James form a triangle. Doucouré is already making a run behind the midfield line, Coleman passes the ball to James and then goes for the overlap.

James has dropped deep into the midfield, whereas Coleman and Doucouré occupy the forward spaces. Brighton overloads on the side of the ball.

When James finds himself just outside the penalty box, he delivers delightful crosses around the back-post area for Richarlison or Calvert-Lewin. We have already seen how Calvert-Lewin has been exceptional in the air this season and with James crossing in great passes one after the other, we can expect more of the same out of him.

James at the edge of the box delivers a beautiful cross to Calvert-Lewin.

Likes to stay involved in the game

In the above tactical analysis, we have already discussed how Rodríguez likes to come inside from the flanks to make space for the full-back to run into. He likes to move around the pitch as much as possible and is someone who always likes to stay involved in the game. He ranks sixth in both passes made (49.74) and passes received (41.07) per 90 in Premier League until now. This shows that he likes to dictate the game and run the show at his own pace. He also ranks third with 9.74 progressive passes made per 90, only behind Bruno Fernandes and Kevin de Bruyne. Ancelotti has given him more of a free-roam role and it won’t be unusual to find him on the left flank, or in the middle of the pitch spreading the play.

This is 15 seconds after he switched the play from the right flank. James runs across the other side to join the attack and tries to deliver a cross from the left. This shows how much James wants to stay on the ball and involved in the game. The thing that sets out great players from good is their ability to control the game’s tempo. Players like Messi, De Bryune, and even Ozil when he was in his prime managed to do that. The Columbian likes to do the same and trusts his ability to do so.

Above we can find heat map of James Rodríguez. From this we can observe even though, it is concentrated on the right-hand side, there are more than enough shades near the central area as well. Also from our earlier observation in this analysis regarding how he likes to drop deep can also be easily interpreted from this heat map.

Conclusion

James’s life has started pretty well in the Premier League and he has shut his critics who labelled him “too slow” for the Premier League. Ancelotti, who worked with him at both Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, has brought the best out of him and will be looking forward to continuing this extraordinary start. James will be hoping to continue his form and help Everton challenge the likes of Chelsea, Manchester United, and Spurs for the UEFA Champions League positions. Or maybe even their Merseyside rivals Liverpool for the title, you never know.