Cruz Azul are one of the giants of the Liga MX, winning eight titles in their history. However, their 2019/20 season did not get off to the best start. They finished 12th in the Apertura and failed to qualify for the Liguilla. But their Clausura was a season they would never have wanted to end. At the cancellation of the Clausura last month, Cruz Azul were currently sat in first place. Winning seven out of their ten games, they looked set to qualify for the Liguilla and possibly go even further. Cruz Azul did have a change of manager mid-way through the Apertura, replacing former Rangers manager Pedro Caixinha with current boss Robert Siboldi. This managerial change obviously changed the fortunes of Cruz Azul, however, there was one man at the middle of all of this. Cruz Azul striker Jonathan Rodríguez finished the Clausura with nine goals, taking his total to 16 for the season.
Rodríguez was at the forefront of Cruz Azul’s charge this season, and he would have firmly believed he could guide them to another championship. However, the cancellation of Liga MX means his quest will have to wait another year. Whilst Rodríguez was so impressive in the Clausura it may have come as a surprise to the Cruz Azul fans. Rodríguez had stints in Liga NOS and La Liga before making the move back to South America in 2016. Rodríguez struggled in Europe scoring 0 goals in 13 appearances in La Liga. His move to Mexico didn’t come with immediate success either, netting 37 times in 104 appearances for Santos Laguna. The 2019/20 season was the first time Rodríguez has scored over 10 goals in a regular Liga MX season as he finished with a total of 16. Despite Rodríguez’s trouble in the past, it may seem he has finally turned a corner, and this could prove to be his benchmark season.
A previous analysis explored the best strikers in Liga MX, and Rodríguez was one of those highlighted. This tactical analysis, in the form of a scout report, will use statistics and analysis to examine why Rodríguez has been so successful this season. We will look to explore how a change of tactics and approach has enabled Rodríguez to finally become a proficient goal scorer.
The above heat map gives a good indication of the type of player Rodríguez is and how he plays his game. Firstly, we can see that Rodríguez’s main starting position is a centre-forward, as highlighted by the large white circle. However, the heat map actually suggests that Rodríguez often drifts out wide to the left-hand side. We can also see that on occasions Rodríguez has started as a left midfielder/winger, showing he is very capable in this position. During the Apertura, Cruz Azul favoured either a 4-2-3-1 formation or a 4-3-3. In both of these cases, Rodríguez was left to lead the line on his own.
Cruz Azul had limited success during this season and Rodríguez’s lack of support may have been a reason for this. We can see that Rodríguez will drift out wide a lot, and new boss Robert Siboldi has allowed him to do so. In the Clausura, where Rodríguez netted nine times, Cruz Azul favoured a 4-4-2 formation. This change and extra support for Rodríguez meant he was able to drift out to the left-hand side more. When doing so Cruz Azul still had Santiago Giménez up top, meaning they weren’t losing a frontman when Rodríguez roamed free. Despite the tendency to move out left, Rodríguez still had one of the highest number of touches in the box per 90 with 3.54.
One of the first things I noticed about Rodríguez’s positioning, is how it opened up space for his team-mates. Above we see a good example of how Rodríguez is able to stretch defenders and create openings. In the above analysis, Rodríguez actually drifts out to the right-hand side, however, the same principle applies. We can see that as Rodríguez retrieves the ball on the right three defenders are in close proximity to him. This is significant as it creates space for his other teammates. We can see one Club America defender goes to close Rodríguez down whilst the other remains in the box to mark another Cruz Azul player.
However, we can see the gap between the two defenders this causes. An extremely large hole has opened up between the defenders, as shown in the red highlighted area, creating good space for attackers to penetrate. Further to this, Rodríguez has also drawn defenders towards him. At this point of the season, clubs were aware of the threat of Rodríguez. The above example shows how him drifting out wide, takes three players out the game almost. Several defenders aim to close Rodríguez down and leave Cruz Azul players alone on the edge of the box. In this instance, Rodríguez was unable to find a team-mate.
However, this positioning shows how Rodríguez uses his preferred style of play to aid his team-mates. Whilst, Rodríguez may not drift out wide to directly create space and opportunities for his team-mates, it certainly has a knock-on effect.
As discussed, Rodríguez enjoys drifting out-wide and we can see the effects this has on his team. However, understanding why Rodríguez does that for his own game is an interesting aspect. Whilst conducting this analysis, it became apparent that Rodríguez was much more than a goal scorer.
Rodríguez has 16 goals this season, but it seems he has much more to his game. The best way to describe Rodríguez’s role is as an inside forward. He does not start on the wing, but he often finds himself there. An inside forward opens up space for overlapping full-backs and causes an overload in certain parts of the pitch. They are tasked with starting wide and probing central areas of the pitch if possible.
The first theme we see with Rodríguez is the number of crosses he attempts for a striker. Above is a representation of all the deliveries into the penalty area by Rodríguez. Firstly, this supports the notion that Rodríguez favours the left-hand side and most of his play comes from that side. Out of 61 deliveries into the box, 39 of these are from the left-hand side. Further to this, and something we highlighted earlier, Rodríguez also likes to cross the ball, with 23 of the 61 deliveries being crosses.
This is fairly unusual for a striker who scores more than 15 goals a season, but it is something Rodríguez has utilised in his game. On average he attempts 1.41 crosses per 90. This is substantially higher than a number of strikers we have analysed in the past. Players such as, former Ligue 1 man, André-Pierre Gignac and Mauro Quiroga, who have over 15 goals this season, only attempt 0.81 and 0.15 crosses per 90, respectively. Rodríguez is certainly a different type of striker, as he is able to create and finish opportunities.
Above is an example of how Rodríguez uses this aspect in a game. A long ball is played forward to Rodríguez, as he occupies the right side of the pitch. As he retrieves the ball Rodríguez is able to isolate himself in a 1v1 situation on the right-hand side. He is able to beat the defender as he shifts the ball to the right and gets to the by-line. Now, this is an interesting aspect of Rodríguez’s approach.
We can see that a Cruz Azul player is making a darting run towards the front post. He is aiming to get in front of the defender and hopes Rodríguez can find him at the front post. This is a tactic we often see deployed, as the cross is fizzed into the near post and the slightest touch from the attacker sends it goalward. However, as displayed by the purple arrow, we see Rodríguez opts to float the ball towards the back post. Unfortunately, Cruz Azul had no players arriving in this area and the opposition were able to clear the ball.
Sadly, this is a common occurrence for Rodríguez. Several times, Rodríguez is in a good opportunity and picks the wrong type of cross or team-mate. The above graphic adds some support to this. Out of his 40 overall crosses, only 8 of these are ground crosses or cutbacks, showing he often opts for a floated or lofted cross. Again, we see the favoured dominance towards the left-hand side. Rodríguez has an average cross % accuracy of 37.5% in the final third and finished with two assists from this.
Yes, Rodríguez is sometimes may be slightly wasteful with his crosses, however, he attempts such a large quantity we wouldn’t expect every cross to result in a goal. Rodríguez actually has one of the highest xA values for strikers in Liga MX, with 3.47. This is very impressive for a player who has also scored 16 goals. If Rodríguez was able to master this art, he could become a real problem for defenders. A player who drifts out wide, delivers the ball and scores goal would be a real gem for a team like Cruz Azul.
The analysis so far has focused on Rodríguez’s positioning and how he uses this to create opportunities for his team-mates. We have mentioned several times the number of goals Rodríguez has scored this season, so an analysis of these goals will be the final piece to the scout report. Below is a graphic of all the shots Rodríguez has taken in all competitions this season.
Firstly, we see the high number of shots Rodríguez takes. Rodríguez attempted 77 shots in the Liga MX, this season, the fourth highest. It’s clear to see he is not afraid to have a go and backs his ability to score goals. Above we can see that Rodríguez scores most of his goal inside the box, and also attempts the most shots from here. Rodríguez does attempt a lot of shots outside of the box (42), possibly due to his tendency to drift out wide.
One stat that stood out to me was his shot trend after crosses. Rodríguez attempted seven shots after crosses, with five of these on target. Rodríguez also has an impressive conversion rate after crosses, with 42.9%. We have spoken a lot about Rodríguez’s positioning on the pitch, and this analysis will aim to explore if this is a factor in the goals he scores.
Instantly, it became apparent that Rodríguez uses his positioning to score a number of his goals. The analysis above shows how Rodríguez uses his intelligence to lose defenders and score goals from crosses. Rodríguez often likes to cross the ball, but in this case, a cross is how he is able to score a goal. Firstly, Rodríguez is able to use his ability to drift-wide and cause issues in the opposition defence. Rodríguez moves towards the right-hand side of the pitch and takes the opposition defender with him.
The first issue this causes is the gap it creates between defenders. The opposition defence have become stretched as there is a large gap between each centre-back. This would allow any team-mates to probe the box and fill the void Rodríguez has left. Secondly, Rodríguez has been able to lose his marker. He is behind the opposition defender, who can no longer see Rodríguez. The defender is unable to turn and face Rodríguez and he will lose sight of the ball. Straight away Rodríguez has gained the upper hand. The ball into the box is high but managed to land at the feet of Rodríguez. Now, in the analysis above we have shown how when in these 1v1 situations Rodríguez often looks to cross the ball.
This may have been in the defender’s mind, as he waits for Rodríguez to go towards the by-line and cross. However, Rodríguez instead cuts inside on his left foot and curls the ball into the far corner. This goal is a perfect example of two things. Firstly, Rodríguez is utilising his ability to move out of position to unsettle defenders. Secondly, he is using an aspect of his game, crossing, to actually score goals. In the above example, he drifts wide to lose his defender and then punishes him by going for goal instead of crossing. This unpredictability of Rodríguez is unquestionably a key reason as to why he has been so successful this year.
This tactical analysis certainly highlights what an intriguing and impressive player Rodríguez is. Rodríguez will be very happy with his 16 goals this season, but other aspects of his game are what set him apart. At the age of 26, Rodríguez is reaching his peak and will be hoping this season is the start of good things to come.
Goals have not flowed consistently for Rodríguez in previous seasons, but he looks to have changed that over the course of this season. As highlighted, he also has other weapons in his arsenal, such as providing opportunities for his team-mates. If Rodríguez is able to continue his goal-scoring form and also utilise his ability to create chances, he will undoubtedly become one of the best strikers in Liga MX.
Link to the previous data analysis of best strikers in Liga MX – https://footballbh.net/2020/05/27/finding-the-best-strikers-in-liga-mx-data-analysis-statistics