Bayern Munich have gotten off to a flying start under Niko Kovač, having won all seven of their competitive fixtures thus far and are in familiar territory sitting atop the Bundesliga table. Unfortunately, though, the success has come with a toll as Kingsley Coman, Corentin Tolisso, and Rafinha have all sustained long-term injuries, leaving Kovač with [ideally] only 16 outfield players to choose from.
James Rodriguez has slowly worked his way back into the squad after returning from a calf injury that’s been troubling him since the World Cup, and he’s picked up right where he left off last season. With the extended injury absences of both Coman and Tolisso, James will naturally see increased minutes, and with a packed fixtures list coming up before the next international break, he could prove be one of the most pivotal players in the squad.
The productivity is already showing
It’s taken James a few weeks to really work his way back into the squad after dealing with calf and ankle injuries over the summer. So far this season, he’s featured five times across all competitions, but has only been in the starting lineup for two of those occasions; the 2-0 win over Schalke in the league, and the 2-0 win over Benfica in the Champions League. In the other three league matches, he came on as a substitute, the longest shift of which came when Tolisso sustained his ACL tear a few minutes into the second half of Bayern’s 3-1 win over Bayer Leverkusen; James scored a header in that match just minutes before the final whistle.
In total, James has played a total of 232 minutes this season (not including stoppage time), and has already scored two goals (both headers) and provided two assists in the five matches where he’s played. At that rate, the Colombian is boasting a productivity rate of 1.55 goals or assists per 90 minutes. What’s especially refreshing about that statistic is the fact that the total minutes played in the first two matches when he was a substitute only totaled 18 minutes; too small of a window for anyone to show significant stats from.
He’s yet to complete a full, 90-minute shift, but the numbers show that Kovač and Bayern can almost certainly expect at least a goal or assist every time James does start. With the injuries mounting, and a packed fixtures list coming up, Kovač will have to make rotations, but that will also mean that some of his players will have to start and play all of at least one or two of the matches. For James, the time is right to continue on his good run of form and help Bayern stay atop the Bundesliga table and leapfrog Ajax in Champions League E.
James possesses the ability to play different midfield positions, which makes him such a useful assets in the squad. After a relatively slow start last season, the Colombian international really started to fire on all cylinders when Jupp Heynckes deployed him in the center of midfield, as a part of either a two or three man pivot in the heart of Bayern’s midfield. A genuine attacking midfielder by trade, utilizing James from a slightly deeper role helps him showcase his incredible passing vision, but also gives him plenty of license to charge forward on the offensive when he has holding midfield colleagues in the lineup with him.
Additionally, James’s delivery into the box is routinely pinpoint, which can also make him effective as a wide attacking midfielder, though that’s not his natural position. The luxury there for Kovač is the interchangeability that James can express regardless of where he’s deployed in the midfield. His tactical awareness can be utilized to cover space when the wingers are pressed high up the pitch, but he can also make overlapping runs on either flank to put himself in good positions to whip in crosses into opposition penalty areas. He can also hold a central position when he roams forward, giving himself passing lanes to either side and quick triangles to execute short, fluid passes that leaves space in behind when defenses try and close it down.
Heynckes once described Thomas Müller’s style of play as effervescent, but it can also be used to describe James in Bayern’s midfield. When he’s on the pitch, there’s a sense of adventure and creativity that helps Bayern carve open opposition defenses and Kovač will certainly be hoping to see a lot of that in the coming weeks...and beyond.