Real Madrid phenom Rodrygo was named in the Los Blancos starting lineup in the 2-1 win over Galatasaray in the Champions League. He got a chance to show what he was made off with Zinedine Zidane watching from the sidelines and he took that chance quite well. Another person who would have been watching keenly is Vinicius Junior as consistent performances from Rodrygo could ultimately see him get less game time and even become a fringe player in the squad.
The inclusion of Rodrygo in the starting lineup was a big statement prior to kick-off. It has been a troublesome Champions League campaign for Real Madrid thus far, as Los Blancos have failed to win either of their first two games. After being decimated by PSG at the Parc des Princes, Real tied to Club Brugge 2-2, needing a furious second-half comeback just to rescue a point at the Bernabeu against heavy underdogs.
There was indeed no margin for error against Galatasaray and thankfully everyone followed the script well enough to secure a victory and all three points. For Rodrygo, the victory on the night would have meant much more.
The 18-year-old Brazilian arrived from Santos in pre-season in a deal that reportedly cost Madrid €45 million (£38m/$50m).
While he enjoyed plenty of exposure to first-team football in Brazil, Madrid have been using him sparingly, with the winger making only two La Liga appearances and also turning out twice for their second team, Real Madrid Castilla (Transfermarkt).
However, on the evidence of his performance in the 1-0 win in Istanbul, it seems unlikely Rodrygo will be made available to Castilla again, as he looked at home in the senior side in the absence of Gareth Bale.
Zidane only informed Rodrygo of his place in the starting XI earlier in the day and although nervous, the youngster was thrilled to have participated.
“It was only today that the coach told me I was playing,” Rodrygo told reporters. “It was a surprise, I admit, and I was nervous, but I really enjoyed this.
“The coach told me to go out and enjoy the experience, but to concentrate on the defensive duties he’d detailed for me, too.
“My objective now is to go back to Madrid and keep working hard, day by day, and see how far my efforts can take me. Boy, I’m enjoying this, though – it’s a bit of a dream come true!”
Rodrygo could be the difference-maker for Real Madrid. The 18-year-old Brazilian forward is intelligent beyond his years with boundless natural technical ability and an eye for goal that few young wide players possess.
Although Zinedine Zidane has been doing his best to ease Rodrygo along, the man is too talented to be denied. And Real are desperate for a rising star in attack, especially with Eden Hazard injured.
In terms of how Rodrygo’s performances could impact Vinicius Jr, time will have to pass to determine who gets the nod for more inclusions in the starting lineup.
Rodrygo has something that Vinicius doesn’t, and that is the ability to pause and keep a calm head. It’s an important aspect of a forward’s game because it’s not just a question of goals, but how a forward behaves in the final few yards before the goal. In those areas, Vinicius is more panicked, more hesitant and less decisive. His decisions are unpredictable whereas Rodrygo transmits something else in front of goal: he’s a lot calmer, he knows what he is going to do and becomes more assured the closer he gets to goal. Against Galatasaray, he came into the team with intelligence and his play provided danger.
Vinicius is ahead of his teammate in terms of physical conditioning. He is in perfect shape, has enormous power and a devilish speed. The problem is control. He’s not able to stop all the power he generates; he arrives in key areas out of control and it spoils everything at the decisive moment. Rodrygo is far more ordered in his football ideas, he has even more resources when it comes to playing at different speeds – he’s a more detailed player.
Rodrygo wasn’t overly brilliant by any means but he showed composure and contributed enough to earn a spot in the rotation. In fact, Rodrygo should probably now be ahead of both Lucas Vazquez and Vinicius in Zidane’s depth chart. It will be interesting to see how Zidane handles the situation once Bale and Vazquez recover from their injuries, but apparently Rodrygo is just too good and mature for Castilla and we should expect to see more of him in the Madrid starting lineup over the coming weeks.