James Rodriguez ended his long goal drought with a superb strike during Everton’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City on Wednesday night.
The Colombian icon has been a sensation since arriving at Goodison Park from Real Madrid on a free transfer last summer, managing 11 direct goal involvements across all competitions (four goals, seven assists) while creating more chances (27) than any other player at the club.
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Rodriguez’s blend of dynamic dribbling and sublime passing has given Carlo Ancelotti a genuine world-class option in the final third, one who can make a difference in the tightest of games, just as he did against the Foxes on Wednesday with a beautiful curling strike beyond Kasper Schmeichel — an effort described by Brendan Rodgers as “fantastic” and which would have been a winning goal if not for Jordan Pickford’s unforgivable second-half mistake.
But even Rodriguez isn’t perfect. For starters, the 29-year-old’s strike against Leicester ended an uncharacteristic 10-game goal drought across all competitions, although he has still contributed four assists during that time. But more worryingly for Ancelotti is the fact that all 11 of Rodriguez’s direct goal contributions for the Toffees have so far come in the familiar surroundings of Goodison Park, with the 2014 World Cup Golden Boot-winner yet to score or assist on the road.
You could argue, given the current situation, that it doesn’t really matter where a player is making a difference as long as he’s doing it on a regular basis. However, crowds or not, the fact remains that half of a Premier League season is played on the road and, as ex-Everton midfielder Leon Osman points out, it leaves you wondering just what is stopping Rodriguez from having the same effect away from Goodison.
“I think the thing that they’ll be concerned about is it only seems to be at Goodison Park,” he told BT Sport. “It’s now time for him to step up and do it in away games as well because half the games are away from home.
“I think it’s a quirk to begin with. But once you start getting into the numbers that he’s at now, I think we’re talking about 11 goals involvements and they’ve all been at Goodison, you start to wonder what the difference is for him.”
Everton have another home game coming up this weekend when they host Newcastle United on Saturday. Given the Magpies’ recent struggles — conceding 12 goals in their last six games across all competitions, losing all of them — Rodriguez will likely be eyeing it up as a chance to further sharpen his tools.
However, after that, Ancelotti takes his side across the Pennines to Leeds United. Marcelo Bielsa’s men beat Everton 1-0 earlier this season, while the Toffees have won on just one of their last 16 visits to Elland Road across all competitions in a run dating all the way back to 1985.
A strong home record can keep any side safe, but a good away record can be the difference between the winners and the also-rans when it comes to Premier League and European football. That fact won’t be lost on Ancelotti or his proverbial ‘king of Goodison Park’, who now needs to expand his territory if Everton are to sustain their challenge on the top four.