How James Rodríguez gives Bayern added flexibility

Bayern Munich took the football world by surprise on Tuesday morning and agreed to a deal that brings James Rodríguez to the Bavarian capital. We take a look at why Carlo Ancelotti wanted the player, how he can help Bayern going forward and what the transfer means for other players in the squad.

James loaned until summer of 2019

After falling a little out of favour of Real Madrid coach Zinedine Zidane during the past season, James wanted a new challenge outside of Madrid. When Bayern Munich came along, the Colombian apparently did not have to think too much, despite the rumoured interest from several Premier League clubs. Chairman Karl-Heinz Rummenigge commented happily in the press release from the club: “We’re delighted we’ve been able to complete this transfer. Signing James Rodríguez was our coach Carlo Ancelotti’s biggest wish, following their successful spell working together in Madrid.”
The two-year loan gives Bayern further flexibility going forward, especially since the club already spent over 90 million €. James is the fifth incoming summer transfer after Sebastian Rudy, Niklas Süle, Serge Gnabry and Corentin Tolisso. According to media reports, the loan will cost the Bavarians 5 million € per year. In 2019, Bayern would “only” have to pay just over 35 million € to make the transfer permanent. Important note regarding the date: It will also be the last year of Carlo Ancelotti’s contract. Going forward, it will also give the coming coach added flexibility, should Ancelotti actually leave in two years.
Overall, James appeared in 111 competitive matches for Real Madrid, in which he collected a total of 36 goals and 41 assists. In particular his only season at Real under Ancelotti was his strongest one. He was a direct part of 34 goals in 46 competitive games under the Italian. Despite only being used in 1.824 minutes during the 2016-17 season, James still contributed well on the score sheet. 11 goals (1 per 165 minutes) and 13 assists (1 per 140 minutes) in 33 matches speak a strong language. In addition, his appearances were cut short by several injuries, among them a broken foot. Rodríguez will join his new teammates following his medical and be a part of the Audi Summer Tour which leads the club to China and Singapore.

How does James Rodríguez benefit Bayern?

James Rodríguez comes in because the coach wanted him. Why does Carlo Ancelotti like the Colombian as much? Firstly, there is enormous flexibility to the midfielder. He mainly enjoys playing the #10 position, just as he did for Colombia when impressing the football world during the 2014 World Cup. However, his abilities do not end there. Interestingly enough, he played a lot on both wings during the 14-15 season under Ancelotti and would even be able to play a central midfield role if required. His strong left foot makes him a prime option on any side, depending on how the coach plans with him.
Rodríguez will therefore effectively claim the squad position of the likely departing Douglas Costa (Juventus), after Serge Gnabry requested a loan (Hoffenheim) and will not stay with the club. Whether he will replace him as a player is very doubtful though. James appears to have a higher football IQ on all levels, showcasing his abilities on the domestic and international stage. The biggest strength of the 53-time Colombian international is not his speed (though he is not slow at all). He rather impresses with strong technique and a brilliant, well-executed shot. Rather than running down the line and crossing, James is a Robben-type of player who will cut inside and look for the finish. This characteristic seems to fit Ancelotti’s plans of a more direct playing style very well.
His high number of assists throughout the years show that James Rodríguez definitely cannot be reduced to being dangerous in front of goal himself. Instead, he finds his open teammates seemingly in automatic fashion, partly with fantastic key passes. On Real Madrid, he ranked second only behind Toni Kroos in said category. James is not exactly a dribbler and prefers to play straightforward passes. In doing so, he reaches a really high number of successful passes for an offensive midfielder, last season at 89,1%. His crosses should appear more dangerous as well when comparing them to what Bayern produced with Costa and Kingsley Coman. Not that Bayern needed it all too much, but Rodríguez can produce danger via freekick as well.

Where will Bayern use him?

Douglas Costa and Serge Gnabry played on the left wing predominantly, which is why it is easy to assume that Ancelotti could be interested in using him there as well. However, James might well be a part of a central three, that would also include Thiago Alcántara and a third player, possibly Arturo Vidal or Corentin Tolisso. It would give the player a lot of freedom to roam in a more offensive role, while being secured by two teammates behind him centrally. In doing so, he might be direct competition to Thomas Müller, unless the German international moved to a wing again or Bayern employ a 3-5-2 system. As you can tell, it is a lot of speculation regarding the transfer until we have actually heard Ancelotti explain his motives behind it.
What could be easily possible would be a 4-1-4-1 system that would give Bayern a lot of flexibility going forward. If Arjen Robben and Franck Ribéry are in form and healthy, they could play the wings with James in the middle and Tolisso just behind. If they are not, one could easily use Müller on a wing defensively while turning into a two-man attack in possession. It would keep James in his preferred position in the middle of the pitch. The only question would be if using Thiago or Tolisso alone at #6 would be too offensive for the strong opponents in the Champions League.
While the Colombian can play as central midfielder, he possibly should not for Bayern. This is due to two weaknesses the player possesses. For one, there is his lack of aerial ability. Despite being 180cm tall, he is not good in the air at all. In addition, James is not particularly strong physically, which would not make him useful against opponents with such demands. However, Bayern did not buy him to tackle every opponent up and down the field. He can more importantly be useful against both very defensive Bundesliga sides that need patience to knock down, and also when playing counter-attacking style for a while against top opposition internationally.

No good outlook for Renato Sanches

One player likely not too happy about the transfer of James Rodríguez will be Renato Sanches. The Portuguese youngster struggled a lot in his first year already and now receives strong opposition in yet another player. After Rummenigge hinted that Sanches could be on the move this summer (via loan), this transfer seems to make it even more likely going forward. Rudy, Tolisso and James in the same summer is a midfield that could potentially dominate anyone in the Bundesliga by itself. When adding Thiago and Vidal to the mix, Bayern are in an excellent position ahead of next season and on the transfer market. All five players are very versatile and let the club lean back to enjoy the Spanish and English clubs doing their business.
Up until the end of August, Bayern do not really need to sign any more players if they elect not to. While a replacement striker is still not found, it seems like youth player Frank Evina convinced the coaching staff quite a lot so far in preseason. The club might take a chance here and trust Müller to be there with stronger form than during the past year, should anything happen to Lewandowski. Whatever way you look at it, James Rodríguez is a strong transfer, football- and economy-wise. He is a world class footballer at a decent age (25) that can push the German champions over the edge to seriously compete for the European throne yet again.