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Looking Ahead: Rodrigo is the man!

We didn’t succeed today in Barcelona, but Rodri held his own.

FC Barcelona v Villarreal CF - La Liga Photo by Alex Caparros/Getty Images

If there was any doubt, it was removed yesterday: Rodrigo Hernandez is not only the heir apparent to Bruno Soriano, but he is ready to play an important role in Villarreal’s squad next year.

Whoscored gave Rodrigo their highest rating of any Villarreal player; he made more passes than anyone else in yellow (57) and completed 91% of those; he made seven tackles and three interceptions, highs for Villarreal in this match. Yes, offensively he could have added a little more (and certainly should have taken a shot once when he didn’t) but let’s remember, this is a 20 year old making his eighth start at the top level—against Barcelona.

Bruno (who missed this match due to knee soreness) will probably be available against Depor, and if so will start; no question about that. Our captain offers experience and more attacking ball distribution. But, he’s now 32 years old and will be 35 when his current contract ends in 2020. Bruno is still as amazing as ever (Whoscored has him as our best player this season, fwiw) but he’s going to need more rest in the future, and Rodri is certainly able to spell him.

One of the key points for next year is going to be getting Rodri and Bruno to play together well, because it will probably need to happen at some point. Against Alavés this really didn’t work—neither player was willing to get forward enough at the expense of the other one, and it took Manu Trigueros replacing Rodri to give us a spark. That’s the sort of thing that will come with experience for the youngster.

Rodri’s emergence (and yes, word is Villarreal are upping his release clause and rewarding him with an improved contract to improve his pay) has meant we have forgotten completely about two players, one of whom has already left permanently, the second of whom is likely to this summer.

Tomas Pina was Villarreal’s defensive-minded central midfielder last year. He was a player Marcelino admired and acquired, he played for three years under Marce, though the fanbase was always divided on how good a player he was. We sold him to Club Brugge in July, and he has hardly featured for them—only six appearances all season in the league, and 5 in the CL. He didn’t even make the bench in their latest match.

Marce’s chosen player this summer was Alfred N’Diaye from Real Betis, whom he thought he could convert into a centerback. Bad idea, as we found out against Monaco. N’Diaye could also have given cover in central midfield, but with Rodrigo emerging, we sent him on loan to Hull City. Hull are struggling to remain in the EPL; if they do survive, expect him to be sold there, as he has generally played decently (though he had a poor match today, apparently). If not, then maybe he’ll head back to France or Turkey, where he has played before. We certainly will take a loss on our €8m investment, but Rodri has ensured N’Diaye has no role to come back to on this team.

Alfonso Pedraza is another player whose future is up in the air now, since Leeds failed to make the Championship playoffs. His favored position is on the left wing in a 4-2-3-1, as Leeds played, or on the left in a 4-3-3 or as a second striker in a 4-4-2. If you think about it for very long, you’ll realize (a) Villarreal generally don’t play in the first two formations (b) we have a lot of left wingers, including Denis Cheryshev, who barely featured this season due to injury (c) Roberto Soldado and Nicola Sansone are both support strikers.

So what does that mean for Alfonso? He’s unusual for a Spanish player (certainly a Villarreal player) in that his strength and physicality are key attributes; he’s excellent defensively but his passing leaves something to be desired. I see him as maybe our second striker of the future (Soldado’s contract is up in 2018) but we might be amenable to another loan with Leeds, though without the purchase option this time I hope. Of course that depends to some degree on how the player feels about playing in the Championship with Leeds again.