Raphinha is undoubtedly a candidate for Leeds United’s Player of the Season award.
The Brazilian has notched nine goals, managing a 100 per-cent record from the penalty spot, whilst tormenting many a seasoned Premier League defender throughout a particularly trying campaign.
Given the 25-year-old’s level of performance, recent involvement with the Brazilian national team and his previous transfer history, the assumption is that regardless of Leeds’ league position at the end of the season, he will move on.
There is no guarantee of this scenario, though, as the club continue to work on a new contract for the attacker whose deal expires in summer 2024.
A dejected Raphinha #10 of Leeds United walks back after Philippe Coutinho #23 of Aston Villa scores to make it 0-1
In recent weeks, the Brazilian has experienced tougher circumstances than at any point in his top level career to date.
Raphinha has appeared for Vitoria de Guimaraes in Portugal’s top flight, a club occasionally competing in European football, as well as Iberian giants Sporting Clube de Portugal. Both sides routinely occupy places in the Primeira Liga’s top half.
Leaving Portugal in 2019, he joined Stade Rennais in France, a club who have finished in Ligue 1’s top half 16 times over the last 20 seasons.
A relegation battle is somewhat alien to the newly-capped Brazil international, but has he downed tools?
The perception around Elland Road in recent weeks is that his drop-off is directly linked to a decrease in the 25-year-old’s effort levels.
Thursday evening’s fixture with Aston Villa suggests that assumption could not be further from the truth.
1st – dribbles attempted
1st – dribbles completed
1st – pressures attempted
1st – successful pressures
1st – progressive carries
1st – passes into final third
1st – progressive passes
Among his Leeds United peers, Raphinha attempted and completed the most dribbles, pressured the opponent more frequently, successfully retrieved the ball more often, carried the ball into dangerous spaces more than any other in a white shirt, and completed more passes into the final third, as per FBRef.com.
While Leeds’ lacklustre efforts in the final third may have shrouded the Brazilian’s endeavour in build-up, he was their sole driving force against a miserly Villa rearguard.
The nadir of Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds United tenure came in the 6-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield a couple of weeks ago. That evening, the decision was taken by the Leeds United board to approach Jesse Marsch over the soon-to-be vacant head coach role.
Raphinha turned in a disappointing display, recalled on the night after sitting out the first half of the Whites’ previous fixture against Manchester United.
=2nd – dribbles attempted
=2nd – dribbles completed
3rd – pressures attempted
=8th – successful pressures
=2nd – progressive carries
=8th – passes into final third
=2nd – progressive passes
*= denotes joint with one or more teammate
Jesse Marsch referenced an instance at Thorp Arch this week which suggests Raphinha remains fully-invested in the bind Leeds currently find themselves facing.
“What I like about him is I called on him in one of the meetings this week and he spoke English in front of the group and he did it in a confident way,” Marsch told reporters.
“He also has come to us several times and said ‘I like to do this on set pieces. I’d like to do this when I’m in these parts of the field’. And so I like that he’s assertive. I like that he’s confident and we’re going to use that to help us continue to find results as a team.”
Whatever terrace perceptions may be, data alone from Leeds’ outing against Aston Villa suggests he has certainly not thrown in the towel just yet – quite the opposite.