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Atlético Madrid to Manchester City, £62.8m

New Manchester City arrival Rodri made his professional debut for Villarreal in December 2015 at the age of 19, having joined them after being released by Atlético Madrid. Having established himself as a regular starter, he was predominantly used as a defensively minded midfielder as Villarreal alternated between a 4-4-2 diamond and 4-2-3-1 formation.

After a successful 2017/18 season, Atlético brought Rodri back to Madrid, where Diego Simeone’s 4-4-2 system became heavily reliant on his defensive qualities. He made his international debut with Spain in March 2018, in a 1-1 friendly draw against Germany; a little over a year later, his £62.8m club-record transfer to Premier League champions Manchester City added further depth and talent to what is already arguably the strongest squad in Europe.

Tactical analysis
Rodri is far from the perception of the typical Spanish central midfielder. Tall and lean, he possesses a fine engine that means he is capable of covering a significant amount of ground and, particularly as a single pivot anchoring the midfield, defend against counter-attacks. During the 2018/19 La Liga season, he had the second-highest percentage of possessions won, his anticipation making him particularly effective at dispossessing opponents when they are just about to shoot.

Comparisons have inevitably been made with Sergio Busquets, who was once so influential for City manager Pep Guardiola at Barcelona. The 23-year-old Rodri offers less quality in possession but is superior defensively – he also rarely goes to ground, instead preferring to jockey or delay attackers, which is particularly effective against talented dribblers or those with explosive qualities. Even when chasing an opponent or making a recovery run he rarely overcommits to a tackle, instead remaining upright and poking possession away (above).

If comparisons to Busquets are appropriate, Rodri also resembles Nemanja Matic in his use of his arms and upper body when pressing, stepping across runners as they attempt to advance and using his frame to block their path and steal possession. His aggressive pressing means that he can get tempted into isolated areas, but if he does so within a counter-pressing midfield a teammate is generally on hand to offer support.

His reputation has largely been built on his significant defensive abilities, but Rodri is also adept in the building phases of possession and capable of resisting pressure from multiple angles. Even if he does not do so regularly – his preferred pass is to switch possession to the right when taking a position just left of central midfield – he is capable of breaking lines with incisive, vertical passing.

The variety involved in his preferred pass creates the potential for the ball to be played in behind the opposing left-back (above), even if his habit of drifting to the left in the attacking half means the direction of his more incisive passes becomes limited. He has increased that variety by developing a scooped pass (below) as a means of playing over a compact block.

Role at new club
There is little question Rodri has been bought to become the long-term successor to the 34-year-old Fernandinho. Despite his relative youth, he is experienced playing as both a single and part of a double pivot; given City regularly use a single pivot and two number 10s within the inside channels to link with their respective wingers and full-backs, the single pivot is given responsibility for linking defence and the two 10s, and dropping into defence so the full-backs can push up.

That Rodri has played as one of two central midfielders in a four-strong midfield means he will also be comfortable when City convert to play a 3-4-3. The movement of one full-back inside and the other into a back three will make his defensive instincts particularly important during defensive transitions – particularly against the counter-attacks that can be expected from many of their domestic rivals.

City were more vulnerable during 2018/19 when Fernandinho was injured. In addition to being the Brazilian’s eventual successor, Rodri’s arrival also represents one of the few ways in which Guardiola – whose knowledge of the defensive midfield role will further his development – could strengthen his squad. If he quickly settles at his new club and into a different country, climate and culture, the gap between City and their closest challengers may even grow.


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