After arriving from Ligue 1 outfit Rennes for around £20 million, it was hard to say anybody knew what was coming. Although Raphinha had gotten off to a good start before the pandemic for Rennes, most wouldn’t have seen the rise to stardom he has had at Leeds United.
Raphinha Continues Rise to Stardom at Leeds United
Brazilian Winger in Sensational Form
For any Premier League fan who still hasn’t heard of Raphinha, they might just be living under a rock. The 24-year-old Brazilian has been a star turn for Leeds United, recording five goals and five assists in 21 appearances. He’s had nine total goal involvements in the last 13 matches, displaying his consistency over the past few months.
Looking back now, his price tag was possibly one of the biggest steals of the last transfer window. To understand why Leeds United got a bargain, here are some of the most important qualities Raphinha brings to his side.
The Rise of Raphinha
Dribbling and Agility
One of the first things one will notice about Raphinha is how free-flowing he is. His quickness, natural speed, and balance make him very difficult for defenders to cover.
Ranked amongst wingers in the English Premier League, he’s currently 10th in total successful dribbles (34), which is about 1.9 successful dribbles per match. When he picks up the ball and takes on defenders, his change of direction is unpredictable. His agility and use of momentum to shift players away from him make his playstyle so entertaining to watch.
Raphinha has flair, which is difficult to find in such a physically demanding competition like the Premier League. Although he’s not the strongest player, his quick and clever dribbles are what allow him to skip past defenders. His ball trapping, aggressive cuts, and close control are all extremely good. As he continues to adapt to the Premier League, this will start to become a greater weapon against opposition defences.
In terms of creating chances, there aren’t many other players as effective as Raphinha. Amongst wingers in the league, the 24-year-old is currently 8th for total key passes (46), 4th in progressive passing yards (3,955), 6th for crosses (57), and 7th for passes into the penalty area (34).
Many of his opportunities come when he occupies the half-spaces, causing defenders to hesitate in pulling out of position to cover him. When entering these zones, he establishes himself as the focal point of his club’s attacks. Being 8th in the league for shot-creating actions per 90 (4.45) and 10th for total goal-creating actions (9), the winger displays how creative he can be from those kinds of positions.
In addition to anticipating chances with his vision, he also has the capability to fizz in some tremendous crosses. His deliveries are so dangerous because of how fast defenders need to react to them. They’ve become a crucial aspect of Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical setup, with more than half of Leeds United’s 66 deliveries into the box coming from Raphinha (34).
The Brazilian also likes to push the pace and move the attack forward with his progressive passing. The distance (3,955 yards) and amount of passes (104) he’s completed towards goal indicate that he’s consistently looking ahead and not being stagnant.
Set-Pieces and Shooting
His deliveries from set-pieces are another potent weapon that he has in his arsenal. Off dead-ball situations, he’s 4th in goal contribution (2) and 8th in shot-creating actions (19). With Leeds United leading the Premier League in dead-ball passes, it’s clear that the squad is thriving from having such a good creator from these opportunities.
Apart from being 4th in assists from set-pieces (2), the efficiency at which he produces chances is what jumps out the most. Raphinha has taken a combined 92 free-kicks and corners, 21 of which have led to shots or goals. This production rate of about 23% is greater than those of Kevin De Bruyne, James Ward-Prowse, and James Maddison. This is a useful stat to use for comparison, especially with players who’re known to have good deliveries from set-pieces.
His shooting accuracy has also been tough to deal with, especially with how frequently he does so. He’s currently 11th in the league and 4th amongst wingers for shots on target per 90 (1.17), consistently testing the goalkeeper. Much of his attempts come from just within the penalty area at around 16.7 yards from goal, looking to fire the ball in the net.
The data demonstrating Raphinha’s quality is clear. However, something that can’t be measured with numbers is the impact he’s had on the team’s morale. Whether it be with the players or with the fans, his dedication and hard work have undoubtedly made a positive impact.
Former agent Deco has described him as a “warrior”, and current Leeds United correspondent Phil Hay has regarded Raphinha as a “laid-back quiet guy who is really easy to manage”. Possessing both raw talent and an easy-going character makes it difficult for somebody not to admire a player like him. Even Leeds striker Patrick Bamford praised his teammate recently, saying that he “stood out straightaway” and is “really someone special”.
If his run of form continues, he could be nominated for the league’s team of the season once it is over. With his young age, skill, and character, Raphinha should be a top player in the Premier League for years to come.
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