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Why is Rodri SO IMPORTANT to Manchester City?

5 minute read Published February 8, 2024

Manchester City are going to win the league again, aren’t they? For a while there, it almost looked like Arsenal and Liverpool could pull away. But they’re always there, Manchester City. And they only get better in the spring. Guardiola figures out what’s wrong, fixes it and they’re unstoppable. City are now second, two points behind Liverpool with a game in hand.

This year though, it wasn’t about fixing tactics or bringing someone in during the winter transfer to fill a gap. It was fixing two players – Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri.

Manchester City haven’t lost in 53 games when Rodri has played. No losses in an entire calendar year of football. The club has won five titles since a Manchester City team with Rodri last lost. Through his Premier League career, their win percentage with him is 74%, without him just 53%. Why do Manchester City win when Rodri plays?

  Games Wins Draws Losses Win %
With 157 116 22 19 74%
Without 17 9 1 7 53%

On the fourth of July, 2019, Rodrigo Hernandez Cascante left Atletico Madrid for Manchester City. The Abu Dhabi-backed club paid his minimum release clause of €62.5 million. Atletico Madrid was his boyhood club until he was released for lack of physicality and was picked up by Villareal's youth setup. At the time of his transfer, the Spanish international had only played one season for Atletico Madrid. He joined from Villareal in 2018.

Not a small fee by any means but Manchester City were very reliant on Fernandinho playing defensive midfielder at the time. The Brazilian was brilliant but at 34 he was also getting on age wise. Since players often need a period of adjustment to play for Guardiola, Fernandinho continued as the starting defensive midfielder the following season. When he left in 2022, Rodri had already taken over his spot as the starting DM.

How does he play?

Technically, Rodri is a holding midfielder. He shields the defence and is the player the team tries to play through from the back. 

Let’s have a look at his stats, compared to other midfielders. What’s striking are his passing stats. Rodri places in the 99th percentile for both passes attempted and pass completion. On average, he attempts almost 100 passes and completes 92 of them. He’s the player the team depends on to move into an attacking position, and he’s good at it. 

Rodri is among the top 10% at moving the ball forward carrying, passing and dribbling, an incredible toolbelt. His responsibility ends in the final third. Rodri is expected to play safe. He ranks much lower, relatively, in statistics like key passes and assists per game. That’s someone else's job – Kevin De Bruyne.

Defensively, his stats look less impressive. Since these numbers are absolute averages, they’re a bit misleading. The reason is that Manchester City just don’t defend that much. It’s easier to make blocks if you face a lot of shots and interceptions and tackles when the opposition has a lot of possession. The only recorded, defensive and relative statistic by FBRef is “Percent of Dribblers Tackled”. Here, Rodri is better than 82% of midfielders. 

So, while his defensive numbers aren’t that impressive in absolute terms, he’s very competent defensively.

Beyond the numbers

There’s more to football than numbers. The amount of passes, the pass completion and carries are all well and good. It’s the way that Rodri uses the 100 passes per game. He’s the players that dictates tempo of Manchester City’s games. Whether they need to speed the game up to chase a lead, recycle possession or  - Rodri is City’s main man for this. 

He also displays calmness. Whether in offence or defence, he’s always cool, calm and collected. It sends a message to the opponents and it gives his teammates confidence.

Why is it so important to Manchester City?

Clearly, it’s specific to the way Guardiola plays - he doesn’t have the same effect on the Spanish national team. 

Guardiola's Manchester City make, on average, the most short passes per game out of any team in the top five league. Rodri is arguably the best short passer in the world (Toni Kroos maybe?). He’s the right man in the right team.

They also want to play out from the goalkeeper and Rodri has an impressive set of tools to help the team achieve this. To get the ball all the way from Ederson to the final third. He can carry, he can dribble and he can pass. Everything goes through Rodri.

Their possession game hinges on having that player in the middle that you can rely on to both be open and then be able to make the right decision on the ball. Someone that decides what the game needs at that moment. Backward or forward, fast or slow, right or left. That’s Rodri.

And, while Manchester City don’t defend that much, Rodri is a very competent defensive player. That positioning that makes him always available to receive a pass when they’re in offence translates to defence. He’s always in the right spot.

So, will Manchester City win the league again? Maybe, it all hinges on Rodri.

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