clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

James Rodriguez or Arjen Robben: Who should start against Real Madrid?

A complicated decision may decide the outcome of the tie.

Photo by CHRISTOF STACHE/AFP/Getty Images

James Rodriguez or Arjen Robben? As far as Jupp Heynckes may be concerned, there is no greater conundrum. Over the course of the year, Bayern Munich have become relatively settled as a squad, with ten out of eleven players cementing their spots in the starting eleven. The two odd ones out — Colombian midfielder James Rodriguez and Dutch winger Arjen Robben, are the only ones questionable for their roles. Tied to their fates is the role of Thomas Muller, Bayern’s Raumdeuter, whose position depends on which player he is partnered with.

Let’s size the two up, and compare their playstyles:

James Rodriguez

Position: Attacking midfield / second striker
Goals Scored (all comps): 6
Assists (all comps): 12
Strengths: Throughballs, crosses, set pieces, defensive contribution
Weaknesses: Lack of pace, yet to regain the lethality of his left foot

Having transferred from Real Madrid in the summer, James Rodriguez has experienced a full resurrection of his career under Jupp Heycnkes. Always deployed behind the striker, never on the wings — according to Jupp he does not see James a a winger — the Colombian has been crucial in several Bayern Munich games leading up to these upcoming semi finals. His positioning means that Thomas Muller must be shifted out wide to accommodate, and Muller is quite a competent right winger in his own right.

James’s role under Heynckes can be best described as that on an “augmenter”. Al tough he is deployed in attacking midfield, he is often seen running all over the pitch, trying to help out where he is needed. If Franck Ribery and David Alaba are facing a double team on the left wing, James will move wide to help out. If Thomas Muller wants to drift inside, the Colombian will move wide to accommodate. If at any point, Jupp’s two-man defensive midfield pairing looks to be overwhelmed, he drops deep and helps out in defense.

Under Heynckes, James has reinvented his game to be more responsible. He tracks back and puts in a defensive shift, and his actions as a midfielder resemble that of a controller rather than an out-and-out attacker. As such, he is often crucial to Bayern’s dominance of the midfield. which could be a key factor to consider — especially when facing the likes of Toni Kroos and Luka Modric.

Arjen Robben

Position: Inverted right winger
Goals scored (all comps): 7
Assists (all comps): 12
Strengths: Left footed shots (seriously, they are lethal)
Weaknesses: Lack of chemistry with Joshua Kimmich, loss of pace

Arjen Robben isn’t past it, but he’s close to it. The Dutchman used to be a terror in his day, with pace for ages and the ability to terrorize the opponent fullbacks at will. However, at 34 years of age the winger is nowhere near as fast as he used to be, and the retirement of Philipp Lahm has harmed him in more ways than one. Despite having played together for over six months now, Kimmich and Robben display very little chemistry with each other. The almost telepathic connection that used to exist on Bayern’s flanks has been missing for most of thee season.

Despite this, Robben’s left foot is still as sharp as ever. When he cuts inside, the opposition defense rarely knows what hits them. This is especially important against a team like Real, as their left back — the Brazilian Marcelo, is very involved in the attack and can leave his flank exposed at time. Last year, Robben was perhaps Bayern’s most effective player against Los Blancos, and had to be double teamed at every turn to be denied a goalscoring opportunity.

However, there are drawbacks. Robben’s lack of chemistry with Kimmich cannot be ignored, and neither can his decline when it comes to dribbling. Last year, Robben managed 3.30 successful dribbles per 90 minutes, at a completion rate of 61%. This year, it’s fallen to around 1.55 successful dribbles per 90, at a 39% completion rate — atrocious stats for a winger. He also fails to link up with Robert Lewandowski on a regular basis, and the two seem to be averse to passing to each other.


From the above, it’s very clear. James Rodriguez must be the player to start against Real Madrid. Although not as much of a threat on goal as the Dutchman, James has the tools to make the squad play at a higher level. In the Champions League, especially in a game against Real Madrid, the outcome is all about fine margins. Therefore, the Colombian gives Bayern the best chance of winning, and he should be the one to start. Robben can be substituted on later, to run against tired legs.

Tell us what you think in the comments.


Who should start?

This poll is closed

  • 72%
    James Rodriguez
    (746 votes)
  • 13%
    Arjen Robben
    (139 votes)
  • 13%
    (139 votes)
1024 votes total Vote Now

Sign up for the newsletter Sign up for the Bavarian Football Works Daily Roundup newsletter!

A daily roundup of Bayern Munich news from Bavarian Football Works