Leeds United’s newest signing mirroring ex-Manchester United midfielder and Argentine star

Leeds United’s most recent addition Raphinha plays amongst Marcelo Bielsa’s tactical setup as if he has been a part of it for the past two-and-a-half years.

That may not read as a glowing compliment, but it is perhaps one of the biggest endorsements of Raphinha’s suitability to a new division, environment and playing squad.

The way in which he glides up and down the right flank, working back defensively just as hard as he endeavours in going forward, is admirable. He has endeared himself – probably even more than he even realises – already to the Leeds United support.

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They demand a team that tries their best, even if they are not the most talented.

Raphinha is a rarity in this Leeds side though, extremely talented, of European footballing pedigree and already at the level of his new teammates.

While his goals and assists – two apiece in eleven games – may stand out, it is the Brazilian’s work-rate which he should be praised for the most.

As every opponent has found this season, it is very difficult to match Leeds’ intensity from start to finish. Raphinha has arrived at Elland Road and not missed a step, routinely covering more ground than many of his teammates, creating chance after chance and making Leeds United question what they ever did without him.

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Against Manchester United, Raphinha completed 32 sprints throughout the 90 minutes according to Opta, more than any Leeds player has made in a single game this season. That equates to one sprint every three minutes. While covering around 10 kilometres, those 32 sprints probably made up quite a portion of the ground he covered that day.

That kind of tireless approach is precisely what Marcelo Bielsa demands from his players, and to lead by example having been at the club for less than three months is rather abnormal.

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It is a former Manchester United man who Raphinha mirrors most accurately, in fact. Paris Saint-Germain’s Angel Di Maria endured something of a difficult period in Manchester, failing to hit the heights he has achieved elsewhere in his career.

The reasoning for these failings may not have fallen exclusively at the Argentine’s feet, evidenced by Di Maria’s success elsewhere – and there is plenty of it. He has contested World Cup and Champions League finals, winning various domestic titles at Benfica, Real Madrid and PSG throughout a career littered with honours.

He has never been the most physically-imposing player though, and unlikely to compete well in any physical duel, similar to Raphinha, although in both cases that is not for the want of trying.

During the 2018-19 Ligue 1 season, Di Maria was in the top 6% of players for pressures made; he hassled and harried opponents in France’s top flight, despite that not being something he is noted for.

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It is the indelible creative class that Di Maria has become renowned for – and that too is an aspect Raphinha has somewhat styled himself on.

So far this season, only Rodrigo and Jack Harrison are creating more chances per 90 than Raphinha’s 2.1 – as per WhoScored.

Admittedly, Di Maria’s numbers over a more consistent period have been around this level, and often better, but that can be attributed to the Argentine playing for a club with huge superiority over his Ligue 1 peers. Raphinha does not have that competitive advantage, but certainly benefits from the attacking style Leeds employ.

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Even in terms of stature, the pair somewhat mirror each other. Di Maria is slight, as is Raphinha, embodying the street-footballer aesthetic that has gradually swept across Europe since the days of Diego Maradona at Napoli, forcing more rudimentary footballers to develop their technique in order to compete.

Should Raphinha feature as prominently in the next 22 fixtures this season as he has in his first 11, there is nothing to suggest he cannot be Leeds’ very own Angel Di Maria.

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