For Leeds, their season has been a very inconsistent affair. Their opening two games saw a scoreline of 4-3 but entertainment has followed in its droves since then.
Marcelo Bielsa likes his team to play wonderful free-flowing football but that often leaves them open at the back.
You only need to look at their wretched run of form in 2021 so far. The Whites are yet to win, yet to score and have conceded seven times in three outings.
Considering how 2020 panned out for Leeds, the New Year has been in stark contrast. Though, there are still positives to be had.
One of which is the performances of Brazilian winger Raphinha. The attacker arrived in the summer for a fee of £17m but it’s hard to suggest many supporters knew anything about him.
He’d played just one season in Europe’s top five leagues but on the contrary, was a player that Victor Orta had been tracking for a while. In fact, the Spaniard was watching Raphinha when he was still playing in Portugal.
The 23-year-old learnt his trade at Vitoria Guimaraes and then Sporting Lisbon, before moving to Rennes in France. His impressive and consistent displays subsequently earned him a move to the Premier League.
Since signing, he has been nothing but superb. Although he’s contributed to just four goals in the top-flight so far, his dazzling dribbling skills leave plenty of defenders face down in the turf. He is a wily character, a winger full of tricks, creativity and most importantly work rate.
An attacker player can have all the talent in the world but if he doesn’t put in the hard yards for a manager like Bielsa then they’re destined to fail under him. You only need to look at Jean-Kevin Augustin’s ill-fated spell in England for context there.
It’s a big achievement to work yourself into Bielsa’s good books this quickly but that’s exactly what Raphinha has done, racking up 1.5 dribbles per game – a team-high.
It takes plenty to impress the Leeds boss, but it also takes something to impress pundit Graeme Souness, someone who gave the youngster the seal of approval earlier this term. He said: “He’s a flair player but works his socks off. I think there’s a goal in him. There’s lots to like about him.”
Clinton Morrison echoed those thoughts in December, commenting: “He’s brought into it. He works hard. He tracks back. And he creates chances. But he’s just so lively. He doesn’t hug the touchline. What he does is that he comes in off the line and he makes it difficult for fullbacks to mark him. I think he has been an excitement for Leeds and long may it continue.”
That is the primary difference between a player like him and Helder Costa. The Portuguese has struggled for game time this season and doesn’t work nearly as hard as Raphinha does. That speaks volumes when you consider the latter has only been at Elland Road for a matter of months.
For evidence of how hard Raphinha works, you only need to assess the number of loose balls he has recovered. Per game, the Brazilian recovers 6.83 balls per game, that’s just 0.01 behind Jack Harrison.
A further litmus for his hard work is the amount of progressive ball carries the £60k-per-week earner makes per game compared to his teammates. Once more, he is ahead of Costa.
The canny winger may provide plenty in attack but ultimately, it’s his work rate that has made him such a genius piece of business from Orta. Given his potential, too, £17m is looking like a snip.