Leeds United moved out of the relegation zone in the Premier League over the weekend as the Javi Gracia era got underway with a victory over rivals Southampton.
There are still plenty of games to play, so the west Yorkshire outfit are by no means safe but things could quickly go on the up, with leading talisman Rodrigo set to return from injury in the near future.
What is the latest on Rodrigo’s injury?
The 31-year-old has been out of action since last month’s FA Cup victory over lower league Accrington Stanley and has since provided a positive update on his return following ankle surgery to LeedsLive.
“Things are progressing better than I expected, to be honest. We are trying to shorten the recovery period,” he said.
“I expect to be back before the international break. When I got the injury, they said probably I will be back just after the international break, but things are progressing better than we always expected.
“I hope I can be available for the games before the international break, but let’s see.”
What is Rodrigo’s best position at Leeds?
Where will Rodrigo play under Javi Gracia?
After the next international break, the Whites face current league leaders Arsenal away from home, whilst before then they host Brighton and Hove Albion at Elland Road and travel to the Midlands to battle another relegation rival in Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Having Rodrigo, who is still leading the side for goals, back available could be a major boost towards Gracia’s chances of survival in the Premier League.
What makes his return even better are the question marks over his position under the Spaniard. The two worked very briefly together at Valencia before the versatile forward make his then £26m club-record switch to Elland Road but Rodrigo is capable of playing in a variety of roles this time around.
Much of his success this term – and to some extent, last season – has come with him being deployed as a striker in the absence of Patrick Bamford.
Although the veteran – who was lauded as a “class above” by BBC commentator Pat Nevin earlier this season – can also act as a no.10, which is perhaps something that the squad lacks overall, whilst also being able to play in off the right flank.
Gracia kept it simple at the weekend, utilising the 4-2-3-1 that both his predecessor Jesse March and caretaker Michael Skubala have used throughout 2022/23 but as he garners more time on the training pitches at Thorp Arch, we could soon see his own style woven into the squad.
The 52-year-old is most known for a dynamic yet defensively-sound 4-4-2 system in England, a successful formation that allows the full-backs to provide width and the wide midfielders to free roam for creativity, something that would suit Rodrigo down to the ground.
Whilst his last managerial gig in Qatar saw him go with a three-man defence that had two floaters playing off the striker, which again would be ideal for the returning Spaniard.
It makes for an interesting factor heading into a crucial final third of the season, especially when you also have the unknown of another attacking player in the form of current club-record signing Georginio Rutter.
Both Rodrigo and the Frenchman could well have a major say in what division Leeds find themselves in next season and this air of mystery could play into Gracia’s hands immensely.
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