At the start of the season most Newcastle United fans – and possibly Rafa Benítez himself – would have bitten your hand off if you’d asked whether, with 11 games to go, they’d be happy with 13th place in the Premier League.
Fast forward to the end of the January transfer window and, with just three loan additions to speak of, those who weren’t sold on mid-table mediocrity the first time around would have been on board.
However, the job is far from done with the North East side sitting just two points above Southampton in 18th.
Two of their remaining five home fixtures are against members of the top six, putting a huge emphasis on the games against the Saints, Huddersfield Town and West Bromwich Albion. This is not going to be an easy ride.
In order to stay up, the Magpies need to stop underachieving in front of goal, having scored just 25 times versus an xG (expected goals) score of 29.32.
Although safety is not assured – and the ownership of the club remains up in the air – plans have to be made for the summer and there will be two different shortlists: players for the Premier League and a worst-case scenario, if things don’t go their way.
Goals have been an issue all season, and the answer isn’t always just to buy another forward. You need to create chances for them too.
The ideal solution would be to sign a player who can create their own chances while being equipped with the right tools to help whoever is leading the line next term.
Newcastle United had been linked with a January move for Galatasaray winger Garry Rodrigues. But, after seeing two bids rejected, the Cape Verdean attacker continues to impress for the Turkish side who have put a €15million valuation on his head.
Who is Garry Rodrigues?
Born in Rotterdam, Rodrigues started in Feyenoord’s youth system. But it wasn’t until he played for local club Boshuizen that he got picked up by a professional club with ADO Den Haag taking the plunge. He never made a first-team appearance for The Hague and was loaned out to Dordrecht, eventually moving to Levski Sofia.
His path to Galatasaray has not been typical, playing in Spain and for Greek side PAOK before the Turkish club paid €3.7million for him in January 2017.
Even last season his numbers weren’t eye-catching. But under Gala’s last two managers, Igor Tudor and Fatih Terim, he has exploded into life. It’s helped that he’s played double the amount of minutes he managed last season, giving him time to grow into the role and show his full skillset.
Rodrigues is an explosive winger, able to play on either side of the attack. Although he can cross with his left-foot, he is stronger on his right.
The 27-year-old is lightning quick; very rarely do you see a defender able to keep up with him and it makes him a constant menace.
What are Rodrigues’ strengths?
As is so often the case with wide players these days, Rodrigues loves to come inside from his favoured flank. He has the ability to fire off shots, but he’s more likely to get his head up and pass.
A live-wire with the ball at his feet, he’ll look to stand up defenders, almost challenging them to a foot race. He rarely loses. The Cape Verde international has the sort of pace which terrifies defenders and makes him deadly on the counter.
In the clip above, taken from Galatasaray’s clash against Antalyaspor, he demonstrates his ability to evade the full-back, moving through the gears and slaloming past defenders before picking out Bafetimbi Gomis to score.
Rodrigues attempts more shots than current Magpies wingers Matt Ritchie and Christian Atsu per 90 minutes. The Ghanaian attempts and completes more dribbles, but with very little difference in the numbers.
As you would expect with fewer dribbles, Ritchie attempts more crosses. But with 2.5 crosses per 90 and the blistering pace Rodrigues has down the flanks, he’d be a welcome addition. He is unpredictable too. Rodrigues doesn’t cut inside every time, showing pace to the by-line and even attempting crosses with his weaker foot.
On the break he knows how to use his pace to cause maximum damage. In the clip above he could easily sprint through the middle. Instead, he waits for the defender to cover inside then drifts left to create space for the pass. Next he moves the ball onto his right foot and shapes to shoot before slipping another neat pass into Gomis.
This time the former Swansea City striker misses a great chance. But it does not detract from the good work by Rodrigues. Although Gomis has 17 goals this season, he could easily have racked up more. The number of opportunities Rodrigues creates down the flanks should have seen his assist numbers reach double figures while nudging the French forward into past the 20-goal mark. Wayward finishing has let them both down.
What are Rodrigues’ weaknesses?
There is no doubt he is a willing runner who will also chase back to help defend too. But sometimes, due to his eagerness and speed, he goes too far, either mis-timing a tackle or bundling an opponent off the ball for a foul.
Rodrigues is a late bloomer, but you can see from the upturn in numbers this term he is still willing to learn. You would want his dribbling numbers to increase, but not at the expensive of his completion percentage.
Why should Premier League clubs be interested?
Having pace in your team, especially as much Rodrigues possesses, can transform an attack. Adding what he provides to the supply Ritchie gives from the right would make Newcastle a difficult team to stop, and provide the forwards with much-needed ammunition.
Defenders and centre-forwards can struggle when they come to England – just look at Everton’s Cenk Tosun – mostly due to the pace and intensity of the game. Rodrigues should have no issue in that regard. If anything, he will make the game even faster.