Rodri has had it easy so far at Manchester City. The 23-year-old Spanish midfielder has yet to face any truly tough opposition since completing his move from Atletico Madrid, but that is all going to change on Saturday because when Tottenham Hotspur come to Manchester on Saturday, they will present Rodri with his first real Premier League test.
Rodri Faces First Test Against Tottenham Hotspur
Rodri Needs to Improve
Manchester City will most likely stay with the same lineup that they used in the 5-0 thumping of West Ham United on Saturday. That could mean Riyad Mahrez on the right-wing, Oleksander Zinchenko at left-back and most importantly Rodri in midfield.
Rodri has been given plenty of time to show his skills with Fernandinho returning from holiday later than the Spaniard. Though, if Pep Guardiola had his way, Fernandinho would be in the starting line-up against Tottenham. Undoubtedly, Guardiola’s biggest takeaway from the West Ham game was the dangerous loss of possession.
Against West Ham, Rodri was dispossessed four times, all in crucial areas of the pitch. Three of them were in his own final third while playing out from the back, and the fourth came at midfield with the defence pushed high up. None of those are acceptable places to give the ball away, he’s just lucky it was West Ham and not Harry Kane taking the ball from him.
This is not something that was unexpected. All new players take time to adjust to the physical and aggressive nature of the Premier League. That transition manifests itself in this case as turnovers, where someone like Rodri thinks he has more time than he does.
Tottenham’s Hidden Ace
However, the concerning part is not a transition he will make in a short time. It will take him months to adjust, but the Tottenham game is in two days. Even if he cleans it up, it only takes one mistake for a team like Tottenham to pounce.
It’s important to remember this is going to be a different Tottenham side than last seasons’ or maybe even past seasons. The reason starts simply; Tanguy Ndombele. The Frenchman was one of the candidates for Rodri’s position after outstanding performances for Lyon last season.
But the Frenchman provides something Tottenham has not had in recent seasons; an elite ball-winning midfielder with elite ball skills. As evidenced by his lovely goal against Aston Villa, Ndombele can be the total package in midfield. Having that type of player to protect the back of his midfield will allow Mauricio Pochettino to get incredibly creative with how he presses.
Against Villa, Pochettino had Ndombele sitting next to Harry Winks, with Winks taking on a large passing burden, but the game completely changed after Winks was replaced by Christian Eriksen, giving Ndombele much more back-end responsibility. It worked well against Aston Villa, but probably won’t be tried against Manchester City.
Pochettino will most likely go with a midfield three of Ndombele, Winks, and Moussa Sissoko when the face City on Saturday. That’ll be Tottenham’s best chance of doing the necessary work to keep Manchester City in front of them. Once City starts turning your defenders around, it doesn’t matter how industrious the midfield is.
If Tottenham are going to press hard as expected, then the wings become crucial. This may mean that Bernardo Silva gets into the team ahead of Mahrez. Silva is an excellent combiner in possession. If his teammates are in trouble, Silva has an excellent awareness of where to position himself to be an out-ball for those players.
Most importantly he almost always makes the right decision when he’s played the ball in those positions. That level of trust allows anyone on Manchester City to play him the ball whenever the press is at its height. So when someone like Rodri or John Stones is under pressure, they can play the ball into almost any space on the right side and know Bernardo Silva will scoop it up.
But City becomes extra dangerous when Ederson is pinging goal kicks and punts out from the back. The key to the game will be finding ways to play around intense pressure from Tottenham. The Ederson-to-Bernardo connection is probably the best option Manchester City have.