During yesterday’s game against Wolverhampton, Everton managed to produce the kind of goal they’ve been sorely missing over the last few weeks, one that was the result of some fast build-up play, dynamic running, and crafty finishing.
Alexi Iwobi scored and Lucas Digne was credited with the assist, but you don’t have to watch that highlight too many times to understand that what actually created the goal was Everton’s two most precious possessions: the brain and left foot of James Rodríguez.
Rodríguez has done a lot to energize Everton’s attack since coming over from Real Madrid in the summer—it’s no coincidence that the team’s recent run of games in which they lacked any attacking spark coincided with Rodríguez being injured—but he’s been doing one thing in particular that has consistently created big chances for his teammates. Call it his One Weird Trick For Turning Your Slow And Boring Premier League Team Into One That Is Actually Fun To Watch.
The trick is simply this: A few times a game Rodríguez, who plays on the right wing and routinely ducks into the midfield, will receive a pass from the back line, immediately look to the opposite flank to find Digne or Richarlison making a run, and then snap his left through the ball, placing a long, gorgeous diagonal pass right onto the chest or foot of one of his teammates. Here’s a satisfying compilation of him performing that trick about 10 times in a row:
I love this shit! Every time I watch an Everton game and Rodríguez makes one of these passes, I start honking like a deranged goose. I love them because they produce good results and are visually pleasing, but also because they immediately satisfy my desire to understand exactly what’s happening on the field.
I watch a lot of soccer, but I do not consider myself to have a great understanding of all the little nuances of tactics and player movement that really tell the story of how a game is unfolding. I could watch 90 minutes of a match with rapt attention, and afterwards not be able to tell you a single thing about how well or poorly the holding midfielder for the winning side played. There’s a lot going on out there, you know? It’s a complicated game!
It is not a complicated game, however, when Rodríguez is spraying those left-footed passes across the field. For those brief passages of time, the hard work of creating a goal, which so often involves infinite and interlocking combinations of player and ball movement, could not be simpler. There’s just one guy making a brilliant pass, another guy crossing a ball into the box, and one more guy kicking the ball into the net. Scoring a goal is never actually that easy, but the fact that it can, even for just a few fleeting moments, appear to be so says everything about Rodríguez’s ability to command a game. It’s enough to convince you that the way to victory is as simple as putting the ball in front of Rodríguez’s left foot and then getting the hell out of the way.