EPL

Rodri shining away from the headlines to delight Guardiola

By Sports Desk February 12, 2021

Pep Guardiola has long known the lot of the holding midfielder.

During his playing days, Guardiola operated at the base of Barcelona's engine room as the likes of Michael Laudrup, Romario, Hristo Stoichkov, Luis Figo, Luis Enrique and Ronaldo took the plaudits higher up the field.

In his Manchester City side, who claimed a 15th successive win across all competitions this week to set a new record in English top-flight history, the attacking stars also trip off the tongue.

Ilkay Gundogan is enjoying the most prolific season of his career from midfield and was named Premier League Player of the Month on Friday, while Phil Foden's rapid rise is firing enthusiasm over England's Euro 2020 prospects.

City's all-time leading scorer Sergio Aguero and star playmaker Kevin De Bruyne are still to return to the mix after spells on the sidelines, but another less-glamorous player has been there throughout the dominant run.

No one in Guardiola's squad has made more than Rodri's 21 appearances, the Spain international having made the anchor role his own.

"The best holding midfielders never appear in the newspapers, in the front pages," the City manager said ahead of Saturday's game against Tottenham.

"They hide behind the team but when [the team] plays good it is because they are playing outstanding."

Since a 2-0 defeat to Spurs last November, City are undefeated in 22 matches - something that reflects very well indeed on Rodri in Guardiola's eyes.

 

A £62.8million signing from Atletico Madrid in July 2019, the 24-year-old's first season in English football proved a struggle at times.

Without Aymeric Laporte through injury for large chunks of the season, the defence Rodri was charged with protecting often looked vulnerable.

Fernandinho being pressed into action at centre-back meant the new man was left to learn on the job as Guardiola sought and struggled for midfield balance.

But Rodri has started to thrive in the months since City last tasted defeat, with Ruben Dias at the heart of defence and an attacking line ahead of him displaying its fluidity of old.

"He adapted quickly, immediately. He's still young and there are some issues that he still has to learn but he will learn them," Guardiola said. "He's a really important player for us."

No Premier League player has attempted more than Rodri's 1,723 passes this season and he retains an impressive 90.3 per cent accuracy across that volume of work.

The quality of possession Rodri plays a part in and often launches is notable.

According to Opta, he has initiated 36 open play sequences leading to a shot and five resulting in goals - both league-best returns.

Similarly, Rodri is out on his own with 81 involvements in open play build-ups concluding with a shot, while weekend opponent Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg is the only man who can match the Spaniard's 11 involvements in build-ups preceding a goal.

Smoothness on the ball is a pre-requisite for any Guardiola player, especially one operating in the Catalan's old position, but Rodri has also shown an aptitude for the dirty work required to keep City's pristine machine on the road.

None of his team-mates can boast more than his 174 recoveries this term - 10th in the Premier League overall. Rodri also leads the way at City for tackles (40) and duels won (128), while winning 52 of 70 aerials contested – that is unmatched in the top-flight leaders' squad as well.

"A good holding midfielder plays for the other ones and not for himself. These are the best holding midfielders," Guardiola said.

"They think what's happening, what they have to do to correct the mistakes of the other ones and don't play for the highlights."

Related items

  • Zimbabwe 2-1 Guinea: Syli Nationale fail to secure AFCON round of 16 qualification Zimbabwe 2-1 Guinea: Syli Nationale fail to secure AFCON round of 16 qualification

    Guinea face an anxious wait to discover if they will qualify for the Africa Cup of Nations round of 16 after suffering a shock 2-1 defeat to Zimbabwe at Stade Ahmadou Ahidjo.

    Kaba Diawara's side started their final Group B match with one foot seemingly in the knockout stage, but Zimbabwe pulled off an upset to end their 14-match winless run in Yaounde on Tuesday.

    Captain Knowledge Musona rose unmarked to open the scoring for Zimbabwe - with no chance of qualifying after losing their two other games - after 26 minutes, heading home Never Tigere's cross from six yards out.

    Kudakwashe Mahachi doubled Zimbabwe's lead two minutes before half-time, with goalkeeper Aly Keita badly at fault as he failed to keep out the midfielder's shot from outside the penalty area.

    Guinea looked a totally different side after the break and Naby Keita halved the deficit four minutes into the second half, bursting forward and unleashing a rasping left-foot strike from outside the box that flew into the far corner of the net.

    Zimbabwe came under increasing pressure but held on for their first AFCON win since 2006, while Syli Nationale.will have to wait to learn if they will qualify as one of the best third-placed finishers after Senegal and Malawi drew 0-0 to finish top and second respectively.

  • Conte calls Tottenham-Arsenal postponement 'very strange' but Rodgers appreciates caution Conte calls Tottenham-Arsenal postponement 'very strange' but Rodgers appreciates caution

    Tottenham coach Antonio Conte believes the decision to postpone last weekend's scheduled north London derby was "very, very strange", but Leicester City counterpart Brendan Rodgers appreciates the Premier League's caution.

    Arsenal submitted their request to have the game called off due to a lack of first-team player availability.

    But critics accused the club of exploiting the Premier League's rules in order to get out of games while players were absent through injury, suspension or Africa Cup of Nations duty.

    Arsenal had only one confirmed positive COVID-19 case at the time of their application, but the Premier League deemed they were unable to meet the required number of available players (13 outfielders and a goalkeeper) despite their Under-23s managing to field a squad of 16 on Friday.

    Spurs released a statement criticising the decision, and Conte has since commented in public for the first time.

    "The club made a statement and it was very clear to show our disappointment," the Italian told reporters. "It was disappointing because we prepared the game to play against Arsenal and the decision to postpone the game was very, very strange.

    "My feeling is that when there is a situation to play we have to play, not to postpone games for injuries, for international duty.

    "I think we have a big problem to solve and that is COVID, but only about this situation can you decide to postpone, not for other situations.

    "Honestly, it's my first time in my life – and I've had a bit of experience in football – to see this type of decision."

    Frustrations relating to postponements had been building over the previous couple of weeks and they seemed to reach boiling point with the decision to call off the derby.

    Much of the discontent relates to certain clubs' apparent reluctance to use younger players from their second or academy teams.

    Leeds United were praised on Sunday for going ahead with their match away to West Ham and winning 3-2 despite seven of their nine substitutes having no prior Premier League experience at all – one of the two who had appeared in a top-flight game before had only a three-minute cameo to his name.

    Premier League rules state Under-21 players must be deemed "appropriately experienced" in order to count towards top-flight eligibility criteria for postponement purposes, and Rodgers – whose Leicester face Spurs on Wednesday – feels this is the fairest approach for the mental well-being of youngsters.

    "It depends on how you frame it," Rodgers responded when asked about the apparent under-utilisation of young players.

    "We have young players coming in now like [Kiernan] Dewsbury-Hall, and his timeline is that he went out on loan.

    "You have to be careful. Not every Under-23 player is ready for Premier League football and you don't want to destroy a career. Development is different for players. We will look to play young players at the right time, we have been able to do that in the FA Cup.

    "The rules are clear. For the Premier League, you have to have 13 plus a goalkeeper, so there is enough clarity. It doesn't say the guys out have to be out with COVID. The rules are there and clear.

    "We are clear on where we are now. We were shown in a managers' meeting that it will hit different areas at different times, and different parts of the country will be hit.

    "Lots of players are injured because they are having to play more. The Premier League have tried to be as fair as they can, and then there's Under-23s if they are experienced enough.

    "We played the FA Cup game, but then we couldn't play the next game because we didn't have the players.

    "Everyone has an opinion, but unless you're inside a club and are privy to the injuries and COVID cases, then it's probably difficult to say [games shouldn't be postponed]. All the clubs are working to get the games on."

  • Proteas paceman Rabada rested for India ODI series Proteas paceman Rabada rested for India ODI series

    South Africa will have to do without Kagiso Rabada when they face India in a three-match ODI series.

    Rabada was released from the squad on the eve of Wednesday's first game at Boland Park, afforded a rest ahead of the Tests against New Zealand next month.

    The selectors did not call up a replacement for the paceman, who helped the Proteas come from behind to consign India to a 2-1 defeat in the recent Test series.

    Spinner George Linde has been retained from the Test squad and the left-armer will be hoping to add to his tally of two ODI appearances.

    South Africa have not won an ODI series since a whitewash of Australia in March 2020, and their most recent series against the Netherlands was postponed due to concerns over the Omicron coronavirus variant.

    Virat Kohli is set to play in his first match since stepping down as India's Test captain.

    With Rohit Sharma out of the tour due to a hamstring injury, KL Rahul leads the side and will open as the tourists strive to put behind them the disappointment of failing to win a first Test series in South Africa.

    India have won the last two ODI series they have contested, beating both England and Sri Lanka by a 2-1 margin. The tourists have added Jayant Yadav and Navdeep Saini to their squad, with Washington Sundar missing out after testing positive for COVID-19.

    South Africa were hammered 5-1 when they last faced India in an ODI series on home soil four years ago, Kohli claiming the man of the series award.

    There will be no World Cup Super League points to play for in this series, but South Africa must build some momentum as they are currently outside the automatic qualification spots for the showpiece in India next year.

    Kohli overdue a century

    Kohli brought a halt to his long reign as Test skipper a day after South Africa were beaten by seven wickets in the third and final Test at Newlands.

    The 33-year-old had relinquished the Twenty20 captaincy following the World Cup late last year and was then replaced by Rohit as ODI skipper.

    Kohli had to contend with further questions about his lack of runs ahead of that decisive match in Cape Town and you have to go back to November 2019 for his last international century, that coming against Bangladesh in the longest format.

    He has not reached three figures in an ODI since a game against West Indies in August 2019, but averages 59.07 in this format and could thrive without leadership duties.

    South Africa have unearthed a gem in Jansen

    Marco Jansen was magnificent in his first Test series, the all-rounder taking 19 wickets at an average of 16.47 as he caused the India batters all sorts of problems.

    South Africa have unearthed another gem in the form of the towering 21-year-old, who has a very big future ahead of him and can make a big impact in his first taste of ODI cricket.

    Quinton de Kock brought his Test career to an end after a defeat to India in the first Test at SuperSport Park but can still have a big role to play in the shorter formats.

    Skipper Temba Bavuma impressed with the bat in the Test series and South Africa will look to him to make some significant contributions as they battle to inflict another defeat on India.

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.