It’s fair to say Manchester City have been long below the level we’ve come to expect of them in recent weeks, losing to Wolves and Arsenal in back-to-back league games.
Include the EFL Cup loss to Newcastle and it’s three domestic losses on the spin – the first time that’s happened under Pep Guardiola.
Is it too simple to point out that Rodri didn’t play in any of those three games and that’s the reason for the defeats? Perhaps not. He’s not just one of the best midfielders in the league but one of the best midfielders in the world – and arguably the most important player to Pep Guardiola.
So much more than a holding midfielder, everything runs through Rodri, acting as the side’s metronome. Though he’s rarely the one playing the final ball to Erling Haaland, he’s usually the one responsible for progressing the ball up the field, and his absence has been sorely felt by City in recent weeks.
bet365’s Steve Freeth said: "Pep’s had to do without one of the world’s best midfielders for three matches and while admittedly they were all away from home, the Citizens are so much stronger with Rodri conducting matters.
"City’s title odds have been eased from 1/3 to since his red mist on the banks of the Trent with Rodri’s PFA Player of the Year odds shortening despite him watching on from the stands such has he been missed in his absence."
Though City should have had enough to get past Wolves even without the Spaniard, their attack looked somewhat blunted. Haaland, who’s averaged roughly four shots per 90 since moving to Manchester, managed just one across the two games with Wolves and Arsenal.
The Norwegian’s longest Premier League drought has been two games and it’s hard to see it lasting much longer, particularly with Rodri back in the fold, but Guardiola may be concerned at how easily his side has been undone with the absence of one player (though it’s worth remembering Kevin De Bruyne is a long-term absentee and John Stones made his first appearance of the season on Sunday from the bench).
It’s not uncommon to see City start campaigns a little slowly before, as their neighbours did once upon a time, hitting top gear around February.
Manchester City Premier League points:
|First 19 games||Second 19 games|
It’s why alarm bells aren’t yet ringing; City have lost two of their first eight games – including one to expected title rivals Arsenal, who are still unbeaten – but remain odds-on favourites for the title. Stones is fit again and De Bruyne – whose absence has only really been felt when Rodri was out of the side – should be back in a couple of months.
While Arsenal lost William Saliba last season and saw their title challenge collapse as a result, City can lose most of their best XI – whatever that is – and have like-for-like replacements ready.
City are 33/1 to go the rest of the league campaign unbeaten and they do have their toughest test on paper out of the way. If they can keep Rodri in the starting XI throughout the campaign, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.