Rodrigo Muniz: Breaking down what makes Fulham’s Brazilian striker so good


Brazil head coach Dorival Junior visited Fulham’s training ground last month.

Andreas Pereira, who was briefly his player on loan at Flamengo in 2022, was at the forefront of his mind and with friendlies to come against England and Spain, he was handed his first call-up for the Selecao since 2018 this week.

But Pereira will not be the only Brazilian that Dorival Jr will be watching closely at Craven Cottage.

Striker Rodrigo Muniz is in the form of his life. After scoring against Brighton & Hove Albion on Saturday, the former Flamengo striker has scored five goals in Fulham’s last five games, matching the return from his previous 33 appearances for the club. Only Arsenal’s Bukayo Saka has scored more goals (six) since the start of February. Fulham have benefitted — they have only lost one of their last five matches. This is the team’s best run of form all season.


Muniz heads the ball past Jason Steele (Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

Muniz’s transformation has been remarkable and he says he now feels “at home” in a Fulham front line. There is, though, something quite familiar in the way he plays.

“He’s a little bit similar to Mitro,” said Pereira on Saturday, referring to former Fulham striker Aleksandar Mitrovic. “We know how to play with that kind of striker from last year. He has come in and it’s a perfect fit.”

So what makes Muniz so good?


Hold-up play

Muniz has never lacked enthusiasm or work rate but he had struggled to make the ball stick since arriving in England. The importance of a target forward is that they can disrupt an opposition back line and by holding up the ball it allows others to come into the game.

Against Brighton, this was particularly important because of the way they pressed. Variation and the ability to go direct are key tactics. “We expected them to be man on man,” said head coach Marco Silva, “To press us across the pitch. We know we had to play behind their pressure, and to have a player like Rodrigo, who can hold the ball, is important. He was really good at that.”

The best example of this came in the 28th minute. Goalkeeper Bernd Leno launches the ball long towards Muniz, who is grappling with Adam Webster. He stands his ground before turning smartly in the centre of the field. He evades his markers and plays a pass to Alex Iwobi. Crucially, this allows his team-mates to move up the pitch.

Muniz hold up play 3

Duels

Muniz gave Webster a challenging afternoon but despite some notable successes, he did not dominate the centre-back. Muniz won three of his 10 ground duels and five of his 14 aerial duels — it is an area of his game he can improve further.

The ones he did win, however, were game-changing. Fulham’s first goal came entirely from his good work in a duel with Webster. Calvin Bassey plays a direct pass up to Muniz, who makes the first contact with the ball. He is sharp enough to compete for the second ball, forcing a poor headed clearance from Webster that he seizes upon, knocking the ball to Harry Wilson ahead of Pervis Estupinan. Wilson then puts the ball onto his left foot and scores.

Muniz duels 2

Goals

During their Championship season, Wilson and Mitrovic formed a formidable understanding that saw Mitrovic break the record for most goals scored in a 46-game English league season and Wilson provide more second-tier assists than any player since Opta started collecting data in 2003. On Saturday, Wilson showed signs of forming a similar relationship with Muniz.

After Muniz set up his first goal, Wilson returned the favour. It was another poacher’s finish, a characteristic that has been evident in all of Muniz’s goals during this run.

Here, Muniz is alive to Wilson’s positioning and steals a yard with intelligent movement. As soon as Wilson opens his body to cross, Muniz makes a dummy run to the blind side of Lewis Dunk. He then changes direction, darts for the space between defenders and beats Dunk to the ball. The header is emphatic, Mitrovic-esque with its accuracy and power.

muniz goal 4

Above all else, Mitrovic was prolific. There were signs that Muniz had this goalscoring potential. His goals-per-minute rate, from a much smaller sample size, was not actually that far off Mitrovic during his record-breaking campaign but matching that in the Premier League, and taking this form beyond a purple patch, is a different challenge. These are promising early signs.

Speed

This is another aspect that sets Muniz apart.

Muniz has shown an ability to get in behind an opposition back line. He is not lightning, but he is showing a quickness not only in front of goal and in tight situations, but also over longer distances. The best example against Brighton again came against Webster in the second half. Sasa Lukic aims a first-time pass around the corner into the channel,  putting the ball into an area rather than seeking out a specific target — but Muniz makes the most of it, beating Webster after a 30-yard gallop, despite starting behind him.

Muniz speed 1


Mitrovic had an aura about him at Fulham that could win space for himself or his team-mates, purely because defenders stood off him or over-compensated to deal with him. Muniz does not yet have that — he is not ‘fear-inducing’, he is a more expressive and upbeat character — but what he is showing is that he can be a nuisance, particularly when pressing. His persistence makes him a real pest.

Whether Muniz can maintain this level of performance is the real test but Silva has a striker developing a distinctive profile to that of Raul Jimenez, who is sidelined with a hamstring injury. That is without mentioning Armando Broja, who has been restricted to 37 minutes off the bench across his three substitute appearances for Fulham as Muniz hits top form. Broja, on loan from Chelsea, had played 147 minutes in his previous three appearances for his parent club in consecutive Premier League games.

Muniz is another example of a player finding his feet under Silva, similar to how Jimenez put his goalscoring drought behind him this season. It is indicative of good coaching.

“Rodrigo is getting better and better, and stronger,” said Silva on Saturday. “He’s really difficult for defenders to deal with. If you provide for him inside the box, he’s dangerous — but not just that.

“He’s improving on all aspects of the game. He’s a happy boy but there’s much more to come for him. There’s big room to improve.”

Much more improvement and you wonder if Dorival Jr might be looking at him for this summer’s Copa America.

(Top photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)





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