The current manager of Manchester City, Pep Guardiola, is famous for being someone who bets heavily on possession football and an offensive playing style, mainly based on the achievements he had with FC Barcelona. But when it comes to judge certain players, he has a knack of focusing too much on certain traits that don’t improve his team.
Emerging from Villarreal CF where he stood out as a good passing football player, Rodrigo Hernández Cascante, better known as Rodri, was signed by Diego “El Cholo” Simeone’s Atlético de Madrid side during the 2018-19 season for around 25 million euros. This was already a sort of strange signing considering the style of play of the Argentinian coach that usually prefers more physical and high-workrate midfielders instead of technical ones.
A year later, Manchester City, driven by Pep Guardiola, paid his release clause (80 million euros) to move him to England. In this case, it seemed that the player had gotten a manager fitting to his style of play, very much based on the passing precision that, in theory, would enhance the possession game of Man City.
Last season, Rodri was a regular player at Guardiola’s starting eleven, playing 52 games and being surpassed only by Gabriel Jesus (who was favored in the striker’s position due to Sergio Agüero’s injuries). Rodri has played 18 games this season, making him the player with the most appearances, along with Raheem Sterling. This makes it clear how important Rodri is for the Spanish manager.
The position he occupies in the pitch is that of a defensive midfielder, a role that Fernandinho previously occupied and that allowed the team to give some balance since the rest of the midfielders was made up of mostly offensive players such as Bernardo Silva, Kevin De Bruyne or David Silva. Rodri does not have the characteristics to provide the necessary balance in that position because he does not have the physical strength or the ability to recover the ball that Fernandinho has, which leads Manchester City to have a “lighter” midfield compared to the one in the past. In addition, Rodri is a slower player, which hurts his team when they get counterattacked.
In this regard, when Manchester City’s rival has a very defensive posture and an intention more focused on waiting, Rodri can be useful since he allows to maintain possession of the ball with his short passes. However, when the rival has a more offensive stance and even tries to maintain possession of the ball, Rodri does not look like a suitable player in that position due to his characteristics.
Despite Guardiola considers Rodri as one of the best midfielders, the Spanish footballer contributes much less than it seems. And this affects the performances of Manchester City because now they lack a bit of steel on midfield. In addition, when Rodri and Fernandinho play together to compensate the lack of aggressiveness in the midfield, like they recently did against Manchester United, obviously the offensive attitude of Manchester City is heavily reduced relying uniquely on Kevin De Bruyne. So the question is: why Pep Guardiola is so in love with Rodri?