(written by Tom Cayless)
In the 2018/19 season, Pep Guardiola described a trip away to Turf Moor like going to ‘the dentist’. A slog, in which most sides struggle to break down the deep block of Sean Dyche’s side. Not Man City though, a 2-0 victory, which was even perhaps unflattering on the league leaders. Gabriel Jesus took his chance and gave the side the lead in the third minute after an uncharacteristic error from Nick Pope gifted him an open goal, in which he capitalised.
Raheem Sterling gave them the second, before half-time, after a great team move. Riyad Mahrez held the ball up excellently and played a perfectly weighted ball to the inform Ilkay Gundogan, who whipped the ball across the box, giving Sterling an open goal. However, later in the game, Sterling showed his lack of composure in front of goal. He was played in magnificently by Gundogan and had Mahrez to his right for an easy square goal. Nevertheless, the Englishmen chose to go alone, much to the anger of Guardiola, he missed.
City’s defence was, once again, excellent on the night. Aymeric Laporte started consecutive games and looks to be getting closer and closer to his best, which is great news for Guardiola. The partnership of John Stones and Ruben Dias was, again, ever-present. That’s their seventh clean sheet in a row. But as Dias described in a recent interview, the whole team must be credited not just the defensive unit.
The side’s work rate was immense and this was once again on show against Burnley. Manchester City’s heatmap was incredible, covering nearly the whole pitch.
The intensity of their performances, recently, has been excellent. This work rate is one of Guardiola’s core factors in any side he manages. Unlike Liverpool’s Gergen press, City’s press isn’t the first thing any supporter would notice but is certainly an essential element to their play.
Another reason City has been so solid this season is the improvement of Spanish midfielder, Rodri. The former, Atletico Madrid man has been significantly better this season, compared to last. Many fans were, justifiably, disappointed by his performances last season. Brought in to replace Fernandinho, Rodri was all the place last season and one of the reasons City leaked goals but has this season has been a revolution and looks worth every penny Manchester City paid for him in the summer of 2019.
Last season, Rodri was accused of running out from his defensive role too often. This can be backed up with stats too, he made 16.7 pressures per 90 with a 29.7% success rate. In this campaign, he pressures less but with a significantly better success rate. 14.7 per 90 at a 37.2% success level.
Manchester City’s number 16, also makes more tackles + interceptions this time around, rising from 2.86 per 90, last season, to 3.15 per 90, this one. He is also making less progressive carries this season. Meaning he is taking on more of his defensive role, and instead of leaving the attacking actions to his teammates.
This new defensive burden that Rodri has taken on has made him one of the best defensive screeners in the league this year and has brought more solidity to their defence. It also allows the likes of Joao Cancelo and Gundogan to make their way further up the pitch and influence in the final third, knowing he is behind to cover.
Rodri had been a breath of fresh air, this season, and is starting to win over the fans with his new and significantly improved performances.