When Jay Rodriguez signed for Southampton last summer for a then record fee of £7m, a lot was expected of him after a terrific campaign in the Championship for Burnley. Nigel Adkins saw the ability in the 23-year-old which could help his attacking options as the club were preparing for life back in the Premier League. Despite a disappointing start to the season, Rodriguez has turned into the player that his fee represents since Mauricio Pochettino has come into the club.
Rodriguez was receiving plenty of interest from Premier League clubs and Cardiff City until Southampton came along with a “substantial offer” according to Burnley. On 10th June 2012, Rodriguez signed a four-year-deal at St. Mary’s and explained his delight to be part of a “great club”. He was also named in the 2012 PFA Championship Team of the Year alongside Rickie Lambert, Adam Lallana and Kelvin Davis.
The Burnley-born striker started his first competitive game for the Saints at the home of the Premier League champions, Manchester City. He was replaced by Rickie Lambert after 55 minutes and the Liverpudlian immediately made an impact by equalising for the Saints. It took until the end of September for former Barnsley loanee to open his account for his new club by scoring twice against Sheffield Wednesday in the Capital One Cup. It brought a relief to him as he struggled in front of goal. However, there were calls from the St. Mary’s faithful that Rodriguez was being played out of position on the left-hand side instead of his favoured centre-forward role. A month later, Rodriguez scored his first Premier League goal for Southampton in the 2-1 home defeat by Tottenham. Despite this statistic, many Saints fans were even starting to question if the purchase of Rodriguez was the wrong call by Nigel Adkins.
The sacking of Adkins brought a lot of anger and heartache to everyone connected to Southampton. In Rodriguez’s case, the arrival of new manager Mauricio Pochettino was a blessing as the Argentine has installed heaps of confidence into the Saints number nine. In only Pochettino’s second game in charge, Rodriguez scored the opening goal at Old Trafford, which would end in a 2-1 win for Manchester United. Subsequently, the Saints fans would see a new and improved Jay Rodriguez. The trip to Wigan was a crucial relegation six-pointer for the Saints in their next game, and guess who was one of the stars of the show? Firstly, Rodriguez got the vital flick-on for Rickie Lambert to equalise, but the second goal showed what the former England under-21 international is capable of. In the lead up to Southampton’s second goal, Rodriguez ran down the left-hand side, passing a defender along the way, and into the penalty area before he squared the ball for Morgan Schneiderlin to tap home. It was a fantastic run by Rodriguez whose pace was key to the goal. However, it wasn’t enough as Wigan scored a late equaliser.
Despite not scoring for the next four matches, Rodriguez has now been one the stand-out players in recent weeks. It all started in the 3-1 win over Liverpool at St. Mary’s where he gained another assist as he headed down for Schneiderlin to break the deadlock early on. Rodriguez’s frightening pace caused all sorts of problems as he ran from the halfway line, passing two Liverpool players, into the box and scored at the second time of asking. The St. Mary’s faithful would see another terrific goal from Rodriguez against Chelsea as he calmly slotted the ball past Petr Cech after an effective one-two with Steven Davis. It was a goal that the best strikers in the world would’ve been proud of, as the composure to score the goal was incredible. Saints then went on to beat the European champions 2-1 and the short trip to relegation rivals Reading was now on the horizon.
The match at the Madjeski Stadium was going to be one of different emotions for obvious reasons. However, Rodriguez once again stood out as his work rate and determination was one of the reasons why Saints came away with all three points. The link-up with Lambert allowed Rodriguez to run through the middle and get to the ball first to score the first. This was his third goal in three games and the half-Spaniard was involved in the crucial second goal. More link-up play, this time with Lallana, allowed Rodriguez to deliver a first-time lofted pass for Lallana to score his 50th goal for the club.
Pochettino has probably told the attacking line to switch positions, for example, Lambert can venture on the wings to deliver a cross for his on-rushing team-mates. There is also a partnership forming between Rodriguez and Lambert, which is proving to be a popular hit with the fans. Despite playing on the left for most of the season, Rodriguez has excelled since the arrival of the former Espanyol boss and seems to be a lot happier. The pressing-style that Pochettino uses has also impressed the fans and the players are enjoying the fact that they want to be difficult to beat as well as scoring plenty of goals. With Rodriguez in mind, he has been absolutely outstanding and the most-improved player out of the whole squad in my opinion. Exciting times are happening at Southampton currently and with players like Rodriguez in form, it can only get better.
I asked fellow Saints fans on Twitter on their thoughts of Jay Rodriguez:
@MikeIssacSaints: “Was unlucky early in the season but in last 10 games or so, he has worked stupidly hard and gets the goals he deserves.”
@BaldBarbarian: “Took a while to settle. I admit I had my doubts. Now looks a vital part of the side. Quality young talent.”
@Binnsphilip: “Potential to be better than Shearer fantastic since MP coached him and more importantly, played him in the right position regularly.”
@dpereira73: “More settled now massive improvement. Now he’s buzzing with confidence your guna see something special from him soon!!”
@LukeDymott: “Finally being played in position and is thriving on it! Showing he is potentially world class, and a very complete player!”
@JamesChance5: “Shy and respectable man off the field, on field since MP took over, has grown in confidence and is showing why we paid £7.5m.”