Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City have swept all before them across the Catalan’s seven years in charge so far, becoming more and more dominant with a run of three consecutive Premier League titles in addition to last season’s treble.
Manchester City’s success has always been attributable to the strength of the team and the system over the influence of any one individual, but the recent absence of Rodri through suspension has highlighted just how optimal a cog he is in the Blues’ winning machine.
In City Xtra‘s latest feature, we will be exploring the key areas in which Manchester City’s defensive midfield mainstay makes this Pep Guardiola side tick, showing just what was missing in their last three domestic defeats.
Manchester City have become renowned for their long spells of keeping possession of the ball in the final third, suffocating their opposition, and eventually breaking down defences to score goals.
Rodri’s role in this is paramount. Purely from a passing perspective, the Spaniard excels, attempting an average of 96 passes per match and finding his teammates with a staggering 91.5% accuracy. He is in the 99th percentile for both of these statistics on FBREF, meaning he is in the top 1% of midfielders in the world in this metric.
Crucial too is the range of the 27-year-old’s ball-playing. An outrageous 85.6% of his long passes find a sky blue shirt, allowing Manchester City to switch the play from side to side and force the opposition to readjust – a process which eventually leads to scoring chances.
It is not just on the ball that Rodri can influence Manchester City’s dominance of matches, with his ability to know just where to be to collect opponent’s clearances – his 9.4 ball recoveries per 90 minutes another standout statistic – and launch another attacking wave providing the added bonus of eliminating potential counter-attacks, often the most potent weapon which Pep Guardiola’s side goes up against.
Others we might see fill that role, such as Mateo Kovačić and Matheus Nunes, have the upper hand on Rodri with regard to their speed of movement to get across to such loose balls, but the former Atlético Madrid man’s speed of thought is such that he is always positioned exactly where the clearance will land to get his side on the front foot again – Kalvin Phillips will need to improve in both aspects if he is ever to succeed with the Blues.
In the moments when Manchester City do lose the ball and face a quick breakaway from the other team, Rodri again is a key factor in stopping dangerous-looking situations from developing into actual chances to score.
The midfielder has improved immeasurably in his time at the Etihad Stadium at knowing when to jump out at a flowing counter-attacker to challenge them, when to simply move back with the play and get into a defensive position, and yes, when to perfectly time a tactical foul to disrupt the flow and avoid a yellow card.
Bernardo Silva, whilst an upgrade on Rodri with regard to mobility and press resistance, served as an example of just how skilled his teammate is at the art of the tactical foul against Arsenal, picking up a yellow with his very first offence and walking a tightrope for the rest of the match.
Out of Possession
The last year has seen Manchester City adopt a more swashbuckling style than we saw in the prior two seasons of playing with a false nine, and as such possession is ceded more regularly, meaning we’ve seen the Blues operate as a defensive unit in their own half more often.
Rodri, as you might have guessed by now, is crucial to this shape too; he is able to step into the box to track runners from midfield and nullify their threat, and at 6’2” he is a valuable asset at clearing crosses from both open play and dead balls – his aerial win rate of 66% even puts some of City’s centre-backs to shame.
All in all, Rodri’s combination of intelligent ball-winning, unique passing range and tailored physical attributes make him arguably Manchester City’s most important player, and Pep Guardiola will be extremely grateful to have him available again to get the Blues back on track after the international break.
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