After two years of ups and down and learning the ropes, Rodri has unquestionably replaced Fernandinho as Manchester City’s go-to man in holding midfield.
The number six role is fundamental to everything Pep Guardiola teams do at their best. It’s why the City’s boss’ decision to leave Rodri on the bench and start last May’s Champions League final without a specialist in the position remains perplexing.
The Spain international has taken what Guardiola likes to call “a step forward” this season and he’s a man of lengthy stride. The manner in which he can dictate play, set a tempo, read the game and snuff out defensive fires means City feel every bit as secure as when Fernandinho was at his peak a few years ago.
There was one area, however, where the veteran was generally considered to be without comparison.
Seeing the 36-year-old “accidentally” tread on Ivan Toney in midweek, before inviting the Brentford striker to have a pop back at him after the next passage of play showed a master of some of football’s more dubious arts at work.
It was also in evidence when he produced a birthday masterclass during last season’s Champions League semi-final against Paris Saint-Germain. Fernandinho was excellent in all departments, but his chivvying of Angel Di Maria into a red card was particularly enjoyable.
You just would never get that sort of carry on from Rodri, would you?
He’s probably the Premier League footballer you’d most like to introduce to your grandparents – the mild-mannered gentle giant with a degree in management and business administration who famously lived in his university halls while playing in LaLiga for Villarreal.
Well, if your grandparents happen to be Arsenal fans, maybe take a rain check.
Rodri made himself the focus of a febrile Emirates Stadium crowd as he burgled a New Year’s Day win in stoppage time and celebrated by peeling off his shirt and launching into a goading knee slide in front of the home supporters.
Rodders, mate, the City fans were just there . It was at least enough to get him booked.
Rivals fans on social media during the game had noticed another Fernandinho trait that his heir appears to have inherited.
The ability to avoid censure for yellow card-worthy offences is the Brazilian’s stock in trade and when Rodri was allowed to proceed merrily along after a clattering challenge early in the second half, many were left scratching their heads. Gabriel Martinelli merely had to uncrumple himself having been launched into the air like a rag doll.
That moment and the sight of plastic cups and assorted other objects – including a full toilet roll – being chucked in Rodri’s direction offered a reminder that this nice, mild-mannered chap did once play for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid, where you’re always likely to pick up a trick or two.
Simeone, football’s arch provocateur has riled the best of them over the course of his career and recent Champions League encounters with Liverpool left little love lost between himself and Jurgen Klopp. Rodri’s celebration in north London was pure Cholismo .
Of course, most of this is great because it’s really funny. Particularly the bog roll. But it also shows a thirst for the scrap and a hard edge that wasn’t always apparent in Rodri’s game.
During his first two seasons at the club, when City lost control of games he would often be the first man swept away beneath the waves. Against Arsenal, he stood firm when faced with an opposition in full flight.
Rodri’s passing was not up to its usual immaculate standards, with 70/78 amounting to a completion rate of 89.3%, but he still made more passes than any other City player in the Arsenal half (49). He is particularly adept when receiving the ball under pressure, blessed with the physicality and technique to navigate tight spots.
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There was plenty of dirty work to be done and Rodri’s five clearances were the joint-most by a City player alongside Ruben Dias.
If anyone in sky blue deserved to be the matchwinner in a game where Guardiola’s side uncharacteristically lacked creativity, it was Rodri.
Time and time again this season, he has proved City do not need to fear life after Fernandinho. Adding a little mischief is just the icing on the cake.
Where does Rodri rank among City’s best players this season? Follow the City Is Ours editor Dom Farrell on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts in the comments section below.