Real Madrid suffered an embarrassing loss to Mallorca this weekend, but James Rodriguez was perhaps the lone bright spot in Los Blancos’ toothless attack.
During the summer, it seemed like a guarantee that James Rodriguez would be playing first-team football elsewhere. Niko Kovac and Bayern Munich opted not to sign James on a permanent deal after a quietly successful two-year spell in Bavaria, but they’ll likely not rue the decision after inking an even better player on a loan deal in Barcelona’s Philippe Coutinho.
Meanwhile, Real Madrid ended up holding onto James, as keeping him became a necessity when Marco Asensio suffered a significant injury. James has since won over Zinedine Zidane and reminded fans why he was once regarded as one of the world’s brightest attacking midfielders.
Although Real Madrid lost 1-0 to Mallorca on Saturday and looked quite awful in attack, James was the one player trying to make something happen with his passing. It’s remarkable that he finished with four key passes, per WhoScored.com, on a team that otherwise didn’t look like they’d come close to scoring.
James was dangerous from set piece deliveries, sending in a trio of teasing balls into the box that could have resulted in penalties on a different day. Nevertheless, the accuracy and range of James’s passing were a reminder of his technical ability and creativity, both of which will be needed even moreso due to Luka Modric and Toni Kroos’ injuries.
Before the season started, James looked like a player who needed to find himself in a make-or-break year, and it seemed like he’d need a change of scenery – namely a move to Napoli to reunite with favorite coach Carlo Ancelotti – to recover his form.
But James has been focused on giving his all to Real, even staying at the facilities over the international break to prove to Zidane that he should be a regular starter.
Mallorca won, but James showed why he belongs on the pitch as a key component in Real’s attack. Los Blancos were disorganized tactically due to Zidane’s laughably incongruent 4-4-2, in which players like Isco and even James were cast into roles not suiting them. Despite the isolated strikers and overrun midfield, James still managed to show his individual quality, even if critics will point to his lack of defensive effort as a reason for the first goal. (I honestly don’t understand why people can’t just praise Lago Junior instead of blaming James or Alvaro Odriozola.)
James is clearly a fan favorite in Madrid, and this was another passing masterclass from the Colombian, who had a similarly strong performance last month against Levante. It hasn’t been easy for James to get regular playing time, but between his game-sealing goal off the bench against Granada and this solid display in adverse circumstances, Zidane has to take note of the man’s importance to the attack.