Raphinha: The signing of the season?


This probably won’t be the first article you’ve read about Raphinha. It probably won’t be the last either, with good reason.

Raphael Dias Belloli arrived at Elland Road from Stade Rennais for £17 million, as Leeds’ final 2020 summer signing. Fans of the French club were, displeased, to say the least. Maybe this was due to the quality of the player they had just lost. Maybe it was the fact they had sold him for less than they bought him for. Chances are, it was both.

For Leeds, as well as the general excitement that often accompanies a new signing, there was too perhaps an element of confusion. Almost immediately before the signing of Raphinha, French midfielder Michel Cuisance had reportedly failed a medical ahead of a proposed move to Elland Road.

The Cuisance deal soon collapsed, and within three days of this being announced, Raphinha had signed. It was an interesting move from Leeds, who after failing to sign a midfielder, turned their attention to a winger.

Although fans were apprehensive about Leeds’ midfield depth (or lack thereof), the arrival of Raphinha was hardly met with displeasure. Victor Orta doesn’t do business without the support of extensive research. Raphinha may not have been first on Leeds’ import list, but it was a list he was certainly on somewhere.

In the space between his arrival and debut, fans spent time watching Raphinha in his Rennes days, as well as his time at Sporting Lisbon. The winger played with that expected Brazilian confidence on the ball. His passing was sharp, his individual ability was exceptional. Supporters were certain they had struck gold with their new number 18, and this was before he even made an appearance.

As is common with Bielsa, Raphinha had to wait for his full debut. His time was spent acclimatising to the Leeds level of fitness and the intensity with which they play. As he did this, fans saw him sparingly in appearances from the bench. Given the dip in form from Helder Costa, calls were increasing for Raphinha to usurp his place.

The winger’s first start, met with particular jubilation from supporters, came against Arsenal at Elland Road, and from then he has been an ever-present factor in his side. His game against the Gunners set a high precedent, but Raphinha has met or exceeded such in the majority of his appearances since.

In his first 25 Premier League appearances, Raphinha has tallied six goals and six assists. Even before delving into any sort of statistical analysis of Raphinha, it is fair to comment that he can make an impression within mere minutes of any Leeds match.

Regardless of the game, Raphinha holds a certain look of intent when he is on the pitch. It’s oddly challenging to describe it as anything other than pure focus. For as long as the game is playing, it hasn’t been won. Seemingly, for Raphinha at least, there’s nothing to smile about until all is said and done.

The winger’s mentality is only one aspect of an all-round spectacular player. Raphinha has the quickness, control and capability exhibited in some of football’s finer players. At only 24, and under the renowned guidance of Marcelo Bielsa, there is no reason for him to stagnate.

(Stats below, unless noted otherwise, are from FBref)

Raphinha’s attacking qualities are remarkable, and some of the best Elland Road has seen in recent memory. Never afraid to take on his man, Raphinha dribbles past 2.64 players per game, which is quite impressive when compared to an overall total of 4.61 dribbles, and a successful dribble total of 2.42. Oh, and he completes 0.26 nutmegs each match. It certainly isn’t a fundamental aspect of winning football games, but it definitely makes them that bit more entertaining.

Per 90, Raphinha averages 4.61 shot-creating actions, one of his most beneficial commodities. It isn’t just creating shots, but taking them that makes Raphinha so valuable to his sides attack.

Averaging 2.72 shots a game, Raphinha ranks amongst the highest of shot takers at Leeds United, ranking third only behind Patrick Bamford and Rodrigo. With a willingness to take a shot if the opportunity presents itself, Raphinha offers Leeds an outlet that allows every move they make to be dangerous.

Raphinha is not only a capable shooter, but a particularly capable passer. Whilst his numbers pale in comparison to the likes of Kalvin Phillips, Raphinha can play the ball when it matters. Perhaps most impressively, of the 26.18 passes per game he completes, 2.53 of them are key passes. Not only is this a number that seeds him as one of the Premier League’s best, but it’s also a number that ranks amongst the top 10% in Europe.

Leading the league. Raphinha’s key passes per 90 (highlighted in red) compared to playing time. (Credit: Scoutcharts)

The offensive arsenal of Raphinha is what is so commonly, and rightly, praised. Most who observe the Brazilian are often compelled into waxing lyrical about the magic he often conducts for Leeds United. Similar to his fellow winger Jack Harrison, however, his impact on the defensive end is quite remarkable.

Raphinha’s 15.19 pressures per game are fairly spread across each third of the pitch. Averaging over four pressures in each of the defensive, midfield and attacking thirds are a fair demonstration of the natural work rate Leeds’ number 18 possesses.

Further from this, Raphinha averages 1.21 interceptions per 90, one of the best figures for wingers across the European top five leagues. Coupling this with his 1.06 clearances per game, as well as blocking 1.47 passes, are more than fair examples of Raphinha’s impressive defensive showings.

Being supported by Luke Ayling on the right flank, it is understandable to assume that Raphinha needn’t overwork himself on defensive duties. Unlike Harrison, Raphinha has a recognised and thorough wing-back behind him. Ayling’s presence, however, has hardly impacted the Brazilian’s efforts.

Spot for heatmap

Credit – SofaScore

As is evident above, Raphinha is unafraid on either end of the pitch. Tearing up the right wing each week hasn’t stopped him from contributing in his team’s defence. Naturally, he favours being out wide, however he is not bound to such an area and will drift infield when he is needed.

It is too worth noticing the particularly dense corner flags. Whilst Leeds still certainly aren’t a major threat from set pieces, Raphinha’s corner deliveries can boast a level of venom that crosses from Phillips seem to lack at the best of times.

Moving away from the map, but remaining in line with dead-ball situations, are the winger’s free kicks. Generally, if the free-kick is won on the wing, Raphinha will take it. Utilising his crossing ability, his deliveries can and have made Leeds a genuine threat from set-pieces, something that has been nothing short of a rarity in Bielsa’s time at the club.

When the opportunity arises to shoot from a free-kick, Raphinha isn’t one to shy away. As aforementioned, his willingness to take a shot with even the smallest amount of space is apparent in each game he plays. If he is given the opportunity to shoot with no defensive pressures, it often ends with a goal.

United have certainly defied at least some people’s expectations this season, and Raphinha has played a large part in that. Almost every game, he is on top form. The fact that Leeds United bought him for as cheap as £17 million continues to boggle the minds of most.

Raphinha is a player that any supporter could ramble about for hours, which is perhaps one of the best ways to resonate with your new fan base. There is no doubt that, when it is allowed, Elland Road will provide a delayed, but thunderous, welcome to their new, tricky Brazilian winger.

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