Manchester City played out a hard-fought 0-0 draw with Southampton on Saturday, a scoreline that few would have predicted before kick-off.
City endured a frustrating afternoon at the Etihad Stadium as Ralph Hasenhuttl’s side went toe-to-toe with Pep Guardiola’s men to deny them a fourth consecutive Premier League home win.
City struggled to control the game and were sloppy in possession, with Southampton employing a mix of high pressing and defensive compactness to disrupt Guardiola’s side’s usual rhythm.
It was a performance that highlighted just how important Rodri is in those kinds of games.
The Spanish holding midfielder was not involved after picking up a knock in the midweek win against RB Leipzig, with City captain Fernandinho deputising in his absence. The 36-year-old showed that he can still be of use in defensive situations, but in possession he had a thoroughly underwhelming afternoon.
Constantly on the receiving end of Southampton pressure, the skipper kept finding himself facing his own goal and running into cul-de-sacs. Even when he had a bit more time on the ball, he kept trying to force passes that were easily intercepted by the opposition and then recycled into counter-attacks. Given that City’s main weakness is the counter, a pass completion rate of 83%, while not awful, is not good enough.
In the kind of games where City have the majority of possession – they had 64% against Southampton – Rodri is incredibly important in keeping things ticking over. Last season in the Premier League, the Spain international had a pass completion rate of 91.5% – higher than any other midfielder in the squad and better than Fernandinho’s 87.7%.
As we’ve seen over the past two years, Rodri is not a midfield enforcer who drives forward from deep when City need a goal. But when City have all of the ball and just need to find a way through, he’s excellent.
As Saturday’s game wore on, the Saints attacked less and less as they dropped deeper into their own half. In that situation, Rodri’s ability to keep hold of the ball and pick out diagonal defence-splitting passes, as he did against RB Lepizig, could have proved decisive.
Fernandinho is a club legend and a fantastic dressing room presence, but against Southampton, he showed that his technical abilities are on the wane. Upcoming contests with Chelsea and Liverpool that are likely to be fast-paced and end-to-end might actually suit him more.
In certain games, City could do with a more progressives presence in the middle like a Declan Rice or a Jude Bellingham, but a lot of the time, Rodri is just the man they need to get the attack firing.
The Spaniard’s abilities have been doubted by some City fans since his move to the club in 2019, but Saturday’s draw with Southampton was a timely reminder of just how important he is.
Do you think City missed Rodri against Southampton? Follow our new City Fan Brands Writer Alex Brotherton on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.Internet Explorer Channel Network