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James Rodriguez has got the art of pinging long balls to a Bayern Munich team-mate down to a fine art. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Simon Hofmann
James Rodriguez has got the art of pinging long balls to a Bayern Munich team-mate down to a fine art. - © © DFL DEUTSCHE FUSSBALL LIGA / Simon Hofmann

Bayern Munich's James Rodriguez and the forgotten art of long balls


Regular watchers of Bayern Munich will by now have grown familiar with the sight of James Rodriguez's velvet touch, sleight of foot and ease on the ball in the Bavarians' midfield but there is another aspect to the Colombian's game that should not go unnoticed: his incredible accuracy with long balls and crosses.

In an era shaped by tiki-taka and furious Gegenpressing as methods to unlock opposition defences, James' willingness to use what could be considered an old-fashioned tactic is a refreshing reminder of bygone days.

Sunday's game against Werder Bremen offered the latest example of this particular skill set. Although he started in a No10 role in a 4-1-4-1 formation, the 26-year-old frequently drifted out to the left and switched play with raking diagonal balls.

Watch: Highlights of Bayern's 4-2 win over Bremen

It was also from his pinpoint out-swinging corner from the left that Bayern took a 2-1 lead against Bremen, with Robert Lewandowski leaping highest to head home in the 63rd minute. That was no mere coincidence.

Bayern have scored three Bundesliga goals so far this season from James' set-pieces, while a further 27 (out of 78 in total) of them have led to a team-mate having a shot on goal.

"I think everything's much easier when you have good players alongside you," James said modestly after Bayern eventually went on to beat Bremen 4-2. "They're world-class players and I think that when you have them next to you it's much easier to perform and play football."

Watch: James reflects on his impressive display against Bremen

Be that as it may, James' ability to pick a pass sets him apart. Against Bremen only four of his 81 attempted passes failed to find a team-mate, with only Niklas Süle registering a better quota in this regard.

As centre-backs tend to play safe passes under relatively little pressure, James' return is all the more remarkable given that his position inevitably means he has to play riskier balls in the final third. His assist for Thomas Müller to score Bayern's fourth demonstrates that perfectly, creating a chance out of nothing with a delicate chip over a packed defence.

So did he just have a one-off against Bremen? Far from it. James has been doing this all season. He has completed 91.2 per cent of all his passes in the Bundesliga in 2017/18, while 34 of his 40 attempted long balls have gone to a fellow Bayern player – an eye-watering 85 per cent.

He boasts similar numbers in the UEFA Champions League (87 per cent), and offered another glimpse of his unerring eye for a pass on that stage with a sumptuous curling cross to tee up Corentin Tolisso to head Bayern 2-0 up at home to Paris Saint-Germain on Matchday 6 of the group stage in December.

Corentin Tolisso may have been surrounded by four PSG defenders at the Allianz Arena, but James still managed to pick him out with an inch-perfect cross. - © imago / Jan Hübner

It is no wonder, then, that James his been in the Bayern starting line-up in 10 of their last 11 league outings. He has also been directly involved in four goals already since the turn of the year – nobody in the Bundesliga has more.

That alone would make it hard enough to leave him out, but this versatility in his approach play means coach Jupp Heynckes will soon no longer be able to do without him.

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