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James Rodriguez proved he's much more than a Real Madrid reject

By Robert Cottingham For Mailonline

Published: 17:03 EDT, 25 April 2018 | Updated: 18:36 EDT, 25 April 2018

There were more than a few eyebrows raised when James Rodriguez joined Bayern Munich from Real Madrid on a two-year loan deal in July, less than three months after the rival teams faced off in the 2017 Champions League quarter-finals.

The Colombian was the poster boy of the 2014 World Cup and scorer of the goal of the tournament against Uruguay. A £63million move from Monaco to Real Madrid followed that summer leaving Madrid fans salivating over their latest Galactico.

But just as Kaka had done five years before him, Rodriguez struggled to shine as brightly amid a team of superstars and was soon reduced to a fringe role under Zinedine Zidane. The Bayern loan was as much about reviving his career as anything else.

James Rodriguez was placed in the unusual situation of playing against his parent club

Yet at the Allianz Arena in Wednesday's Champions League semi-final first leg, Rodriguez reminded his parent club what he's capable of when handed the keys to a midfield.

He started the game in the central attacking midfield position alongside Thomas Muller and behind lone striker Robert Lewandowski. But after Arjen Robben was forced off through injury in the eighth minute and replaced by Thiago Alcantara, Rodriguez's role became less defined.

Rodriguez initially positioned himself on the left flank to fill in for Robben but as the half wore on he came further infield, dropping deep alongside defensive midfielder Javi Martinez to gain possession.

It was from deep he teed up Joshua Kimmich for Bayern's opener. Goalkeeper Sven Ulreich rolled out to Kimmich five yards from his own penalty area, who passed to Muller before bombing forward.

Rodriguez hitches a lift on Joshua Kimmich after teeing up the German for the opening goal
Rodriguez hitches a lift on Joshua Kimmich after teeing up the German for the opening goal

Rodriguez hitches a lift on Joshua Kimmich after teeing up the German for the opening goal

The 26-year-old's heat map shows the different areas he was popping up in to collect the ball
The 26-year-old's heat map shows the different areas he was popping up in to collect the ball

The 26-year-old's heat map shows the different areas he was popping up in to collect the ball

Rodriguez received it from Muller, took a touch and delivered a precise through-ball to release Kimmich into the acres of space in behind Madrid's defence before the German finished with aplomb past the hapless Keylor Navas.

The 26-year-old's assist was his 12th of an impressive first season in Germany and he almost had his 13th just minutes later, only for his inswinging corner to be inexplicably put wide by Muller's wayward header.

His heat map indicates just how hard Rodriguez worked to evade Madrid's midfield trio Luka Modric, Toni Kroos and Casemiro - the midfield he failed to break into during his spell at the Bernabeu.  

Rodriguez's influence lessened in the second half but he remained a creative outlet, popping up in pockets of space and setting up Muller and Lewandowski for further opportunities. Though Bayern's attacks did come increasingly through the ageless Franck Ribery during the latter stages as they went in search of an equaliser.

Rodriguez in conversation with Cristiano Ronaldo during the Champions League semi-final
Rodriguez in conversation with Cristiano Ronaldo during the Champions League semi-final

Rodriguez in conversation with Cristiano Ronaldo during the Champions League semi-final

A return to Madrid looks unlikely, Bayern are set to trigger a clause in Rodriguez's loan deal this summer which allows them to make the move permanent for £36m, an additional fee to the £11m they paid in July. Just four months into his loan, the midfielder said he could imagine staying at Bayern 'for many years to come'.

In fairness he might be better advised to remain in Germany. Madrid's squad depth is such that Gareth Bale was an unused substitute while Marco Asensio, Karim Benzema and Mateo Kovacic only featured off the bench.

And should the marginalised Bale leave this summer then Chelsea's Eden Hazard could be the next big name signing set to move to the Spanish capital. It's always been a case of next Galactico up for the world's most glamorous football club. 

The Colombian has rediscovered some of his best form under Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes
The Colombian has rediscovered some of his best form under Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes

The Colombian has rediscovered some of his best form under Bayern manager Jupp Heynckes

But while Rodriguez found himself the odd superstar out in Madrid, Bayern have given him the chance to rebuild his reputation at another European giant.

His manager Jupp Heynckes, who took over from Carlo Ancelotti in October, had admitted that Rodriguez was low on confidence following his failed spell at Madrid.

'He was a little depressed,' Heynckes recalled of Rodriguez ahead of Wednesday's first leg. 'I took care of him, I had lots of talks with him, and step by step he found confidence. He is more relaxed within the team.

Rodriguez was frozen out under Zinedine Zidane at Madrid before his loan move to Bayern
Rodriguez was frozen out under Zinedine Zidane at Madrid before his loan move to Bayern

Rodriguez was frozen out under Zinedine Zidane at Madrid before his loan move to Bayern

'Our fans here, when they see him play football, they enjoy it. Above all he is a player who has fantasy, has an overview. He is more open-minded and gives the impression he feels well and has settled in Munich. I think this is most fundamental.'  

Indeed since Heynckes took over, Rodriguez has been a revelation for the Bundesliga champions. He has provided six league goals and is back playing the best football of his career since his Porto and Monaco days, displaying the kind of form that first earned him the big-money move to Madrid 2014.

His team may have lost on Wednesday but Rodriguez proved to Zidane and the travelling Spanish supporters that he's much more than just another Madrid reject. 

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