While Manchester City quietly charge towards a title challenge, it’s easy to forget they’re going through a transitional period.
Pep Guardiola has largely relied on a core including Fernandinho in midfield, Kevin De Bruyne as the chief creator and Sergio Aguero as the head honcho in front of goal.
Aguero’s goalscoring has dried up, with the striker having gone a year since last scoring in the Premier League but De Bruyne’s creativity still has him placed among the world’s best players.
Fernandinho however, is already in the process of being replaced. As the Brazilian sits at 35 years old, Guardiola brought in Spanish midfielder Rodri from Atletico Madrid last season.
After a season under Diego Simeone, Rodri showed he had a great defensive side to his game but was also a fantastic distributer of the ball. At the Etihad Stadium though, Rodri has struggled to show that form.
Since joining the Premier League, the 24-year-old has failed to cope.
Physically he has been nowhere near as dominant as Fernandinho in the City team, hasn’t been progressive enough with his passing, isn’t aggressive enough defensively and is far too slow.
He seemed like a near perfect replacement on paper, with plenty of attributes that likened him to Sergio Busquets. It’s clear to see now though, that there is a reason many Premier League sides have never considered trying to tempt Busquets away from the Camp Nou.
Even in good form, Rodri has been the clear weak link in City’s midfield. He seems to consistently play with the safety on, always playing the simple pass whether it be sideways or backwards. He often takes up positions between the defenders and more attacking players, almost like he would in a defensive situation, to take the ball from them to play forwards. However it’s a pass that is easily made by the defender, so his role in that sequence is pretty unneeded.
Defensively he isn’t strong enough in a single pivot role, which is why Guardiola has opted for a 4231 in the majority of big games this season. In a midfield two, Rodri has been fine, but we know the manager’s preference is always a 433 formation.
If Guardiola wants to progress with a double pivot then Rodri will do, but if not then he needs to start looking towards another replacement who is more mobile and more similar to Fernandinho.