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BFW Film Room: breaking down James Rodriguez’s frustrating form

Counter to the improvements on the defensive end of the pitch, Bayern Munich have struggled to generate offensively over the last two matches and James Rodriguez is a big part of the problem.

SL Benfica v FC Bayern Muenchen - UEFA Champions League Group E Photo by Octavio Passos/Getty Images

James Rodriguez tallied an assist on the only goal of the match for Bayern Munich against Hertha Berlin over the weekend with a beautifully taken corner that found the head of Javi Martinez. The duo embraced in celebration and relief at finally making the breakthrough the attack was struggling for.

Despite this key contribution in a 1-0 match, James’ form is starting to become a cause for concern. The (rumored) want-away midfielder returned from injury layoff in the New Year, becoming a staple of the first XI as Thomas Müller’s Champions League suspension looms. During his time in the XI, the Bavarian giants have secured key results and improved immensely in defense, but two abysmal attacking displays have raised questions at Säbener Strasse.

Robert Lewandowski has even expressed a desire to see Muller return to the lineup to help create space and provide service to the Polish international. Lewandowski’s frustration with a lack of service is not unfounded. Although most would expect Rodriguez to provide a seamless link with Bayern’s number 9, the Colombian international not only has failed to provide a consistent connection and attacking threat, but has also been a liability in possession at times.

Before diving into the negative though, let’s take a look at the quality of James Rodriguez. It goes without saying that he is a world-class player, but he has not adapted to Kovac’s style and does not seem fully focused. Even in these times of poor form, the creative play-maker’s class shines through.

The Good

In the last match against Hertha Berlin, James improved drastically, as did the entire squad, when Thiago came onto the pitch. Prior to this change, however, the Colombian played an incisive through ball to Robert Lewandowski that almost saw Bayern end the first half with a 1-0 advantage. James’s eye for a pass is one of his best qualities.

10 minutes into the second half, James almost replicated the maneuver. Hertha were lucky to intercept what surely would have been a goal. When James reacts instinctively on the counter-attack, he is capable of match-winning moments.

Rodriguez highlighted his creativity in and around the box as he grew more comfortable in the second half against the Berlin club. When a team employs a deeper line, the creative midfielder is able to break down packed defenses and fashion chances out of seemingly nothing. In the next clip, James finds Serge Gnabry with a chipped pass in behind. Gnabry connects with the ball, but his defender read the situation well and is able to defuse the situation.

Finally, James’s contributions on set pieces, including his assist against Hertha, have been one of Bayern’s most dangerous weapons on offense. He whips in crosses that almost always seem to find their intended target. It would have been almost impossible for Martinez to miss this opportunity considering the quality of the ball.

Now that we have reviewed James’ moments of brilliance, it’s time to dive into concerning trends with his performances.

The Bad

James Rodriguez has been largely ineffective in attack, at times even becoming a liability for the Bavarian giants, who have just recently improved on the defensive end.

In the Champions League against Liverpool, Bayern manager Niko Kovac set up his side to absorb pressure and strike on the counter-attack, making it important to be clinical and efficient in possession. This requires sound decision-making and precision by the midfield. Unfortunately, Rodriguez fell short in this regard.

Below, as Thiago attempts to spark a counter in the 51st minute against a grossly overextended Liverpool side, he lays the ball off to the Colombian international who has time, space, and runners ahead. James’ scuffed pass results in a counter attacking opportunity. Bayern were lucky to avoid damage.

Just moments later, James is bullied off the ball by Naby Keita. The former RB Leipzig man led the counter that Joshua Kimmich and Niklas Sule heroically thwarted. In just the span of four minutes, Rodriguez left the defense exposed twice, which could have cost the Bavarians the match.

The match statistics tell a similar story. Despite key passes tallied up from corner kicks, Rodriguez racked up only 66 touches, while Lewandowski tallied only 34. The heat map (Bayern’s defensive half is on the right side of the image) below indicates where James touched the ball most. The number 11 received the ball deep in his own half and was unable to advance the ball through the center of the park. His failure to get forward left Lewandowski on an island, forcing him to drop deeper to help in possession, which nullified the Pole’s strengths in and around the box.

Even in the match against Hertha, in which the record-champions dominated possession, James still managed only 75 touches marginally higher up the pitch. In this heat map (Bayern defensive half on the left side of the pitch) the creative midfielder spends a majority of the game around the halfway line, yet again leaving Lewandowski isolated. The Polish hit man was able to tally only 49 touches, a majority of them outside the box.

Despite James’ advanced positioning, the midfielder was also indecisive and wasteful in possession against Berlin. In the 19th minute, Rodriguez received possession with time and space to pick apart the Hertha back line. The midfielder rushed a lobbed ball in behind, and it fell harmlessly to the Berlin defender.

Later in the first half against Pál Dárdai’s club, James receives the ball centrally with time. He rushes his pass again, skying it out of bounds with relatively no pressure on him. Unforced turnovers in buildup come down to focus and tactical awareness. James’ struggle with this raises questions about his reliability in big matches.

James’s appearent lack of confidence in possession seems exacerbated when he is pressured. In the next clip, the Colombian receives the ball from a throw-in and is unable to escape one defender. He back tracks before splitting two defenders with a pass to no one. Just as he did against Liverpool, the attacking midfielder exposes Bayern through needless errors.

At this point in the season with so much at stake, James Rodriguez may be better used as a substitute behind either Leon Goretzka or Thomas Müller. Poor passing and weakness in possession has exposed Bayern and stifled attacking momentum. James may be in a funk, or his focus might be elsewhere (*cough* Madrid *cough *), but his poor form may become costly.

Should Müller or Goretzka take James’ place in the first XI? Let us know in the comments.

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