Pep Guardiola has a new most important player at Man City

An era is ending at Manchester City.

In just over 12 years City have gone from a middling Premier League side to one of the best in world, winning more trophies than even the most optimistic of fans could ever have imagined. It’s only been step one of the club’s plans for domination though, and the curtain is slowly being drawn on this thrilling period of the club’s history.

A lot of the players who have become so synonymous with City’s success have already departed. Joe Hart was the first, then followed Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure. The player who led the club throughout the last decade then took his leave, as the iconic Vincent Kompany left on top after his breathtaking goal sealed the Premier League title in 2019.

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David Silva took over captaincy duties but he didn’t enjoy quite as sweet a swansong, with his final games for the club being played in the echo of empty stadiums. Though he did manage to lift one trophy, the Carabao Cup, with the armband on at least.

There could be yet more heartache this coming summer, too. Fernandinho is in the final year of his contract after signing an extension in January. Now 35, not as crucial as he used to be and with a dream of returning to Brazil, it may well be his last season. There’s also Sergio Aguero, perhaps City’s most important player over the last 10 years, the club’s record goalscorer and provider of its most iconic moment. His contract is also up in the summer and, though it’s expected he will stay, he’s now 32 and injuries are beginning to become more frequent.

Even the brilliant Belgian Kevin De Bruyne will be 30 before the next season starts. It’s quickly approaching the end of an era at the Etihad.

It’s a problem that lots of great teams have suffered, the most striking example of late being Barcelona, who have slowly lost their identity without the likes of Andres Iniesta and Xavi. So much so that they may even lose Lionel Messi soon.

For City to avoid going down a similar path the importance of replacing the legends is paramount, made all the more harder as they will be following in the footsteps of players who are the best in their history.

However, the performances of Rodri this season have proven that they know how crucial their recruitment now is and, so far, it’s being successful.

Rodri wins the ball off Liverpool’s Sadio Mane
(Image: CLIVE BRUNSKILL/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

The Spaniard was brought in for a club-record fee to be the long-term successor of Fernandinho at the base of City’s midfield. The important role of protecting the defence while the rest of the team enjoy the fun of going forward.

Things didn’t get off to the best of starts for Rodri. He wasn’t awful by any means but it seemed like he took a while to get to grips with the pace of English football and Pep Guardiola’s unique methods. He did start in most of City’s game, but there were occasions when others were preferred to him in the middle and City weren’t exactly solid at the back throughout the campaign.

So far this season, that hasn’t been the case at all. The 24-year-old is the only City outfielder to play every minute of Premier League action, and has also started in all but one game in the Champions League and Carabao Cup.

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Manchester City players are now on international duty after taking on Liverpool in the biggest match of the season so far.

The visitors went ahead early through Mo Salah’s penalty, but Gabriel Jesus’ sublime turn and finish brought City level. Kevin De Bruyne’s missed penalty could have given City the three points, but the match ended in a high-quality 1-1 draw.

City have a two-week break with many of their stars heading off to play for their countries – we’ll be keeping tabs on how they all perform, and on preparations for their next Premier League match at Tottenham.

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It could be argued that is largely due to the fact that Fernandinho has been out of action for a few weeks, but even when the Brazilian was fit Rodri was clearly the first choice and Ilkay Gundogan has also not un-lodged him from his spot. He has clearly become one of Guardiola’s most important players, an almost-guaranteed starter for a manager whose teams are often so hard to predict.

None of the work that Rodri does is flashy or earns the plaudits that the more exciting members of the squad receive, but this season he has quietly gone about his business of putting out fires and keeping the side ticking, without any fuss. It’s no surprise that, freak Leicester result aside, there has been a marked defensive improvement this season. Rodri may not be quite the player that Fernandinho has been during his time at City, but he is certainly proving capable of picking up the mantle when he does depart.

With Ruben Dias also showing signs that he could be the one to replace the void left by Kompany, there is no need for the first great era of City’s future to be the last.

Manchester Evening News