Wolves defeat proves Rodri is Man City’s most important player
Before Rodri’s red card against Nottingham Forest, Manchester City had gone 11 matches in all competitions without losing. Since that moment, though, Pep Guardiola’s team have lost back-to-back games – first against Newcastle United in the Carabao Cup and then against Wolves in the Premier League. Rodri had to watch both defeats from home.
The last week has highlighted how the Spaniard is Manchester City’s most important player. Others might point to Erling Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne as better players, with some justification given their individual quality, but Rodri is more integral to the structure of Guardiola’s side than anyone else.
This was highlighted in the shock defeat to Wolves at Molineux. Gary O’Neill set up his team to hit out at speed on the counter-attack without Rodri to break up opposition attacks in the centre of the pitch. Wolves executed their game plan perfectly as the likes of Matheus Cunha, Pedro Neto and Hwang Hee-Chan, who scored the winner, all caught the eye.
“Rodri is an important player,” said Guardiola after the 2-1 loss to Wolves, highlighting the absence of his first-choice number six. “We cannot count on him and you have to supply for another [player playing there].” The problem is Guardiola has been unable to supply another player who can what Rodri does for City.
Kalvin Phillips and Rico Lewis started in central midfield against Newcastle United, but neither gave Manchester City the control they usually have in that area of the pitch. Against Wolves, it was Mateo Kovacic and Matheus Nunes who got the nod, but neither were able to provide the security City needed.
Kovacic and Nunes certainly have their own uses, but Rodri stands alone as arguably the best number six in the sport at this moment in time. Manchester City have found it difficult to replace Rodri in their first team because there is nobody anywhere in football who can perform his role to the same standard.
It could be argued Haaland is the best out-and-out number nine in world football right now, but Manchester City are capable of remoulding their attacking line when the Norwegian is unavailable. They have Julian Alvarez as a versatile and reliable option in the final third with the Argentine boasting three goals and three assists in seven league games this season.
De Bruyne is also one of the best around with the Belgian a Premier League icon. He has been central to Manchester City’s astonishing success under Guardiola, and even before that, but last season’s Treble winners have grown accustomed to coping without him such is the 32-year-old’s patchy injury record.
Look at how Phil Foden has stepped up in de Bruyne’s absence this season with Alvarez also performing many of the duties previously carried out by the Belgian before injury struck. There’s nobody in Guardiola’s squad capable of offering a combination of control and protection offered by Rodri when he is on the pitch for City.
Guardiola will be without Rodri for Sunday’s Premier League title clash with Arsenal. This could be a problem against an opponent with quality midfielders like Martin Odegaard and Declan Rice. Manchester City can’t afford to concede any more momentum to their rivals after suffering a shock loss to Wolves last weekend.
Even when Rodri returns for the home match against Brighton on 21st October, he could be short of some match sharpness after missing three matches through suspension. Guardiola needs his Spanish midfield pace-setter and enforcement back in top form to point Manchester City’s campaign in the right direction again.