The £42m England international was supposed to relieve the pressure on the Spaniard, and now has the perfect chance to prove himself – can he take it?
Pep Guardiola does not usually point his finger at individual players in press conferences, but this time was different. This time he was furious with Rodri for getting sent off against Nottingham Forest and turning a comfortable 2-0 stroll into a dogfight.
“Hopefully Rodri will learn. He had to control himself and his emotions. I can get a yellow card, but Rodri can’t,” said the manager. “Whatever happens, you have to control yourself. I am angry, because I don’t like playing with 10 men. I said to the players at half-time to be careful because of what had happened in the last 10 minutes [of the first half], but we fell into the trap.”
City came through that match unscathed but the red card – the first of Rodri’s career – leaves them without their most unique player for three matches. They have already lost the first, going down 1-0 to Newcastle to exit the Carabao Cup as they badly missed the physical and mental presence of the Spaniard in the midfield.
There is no respite as City head to Wolves on Saturday and then title rivals Arsenal a week on Sunday without the player that only last week Guardiola hailed as “the best holding midfielder in Europe”. City are used to finding solutions to problems, and this season already they have successfully dealt with the loss of Kevin De Bruyne, John Stones, Jack Grealish and Bernardo Silva, as well as Guardiola himself, for various weeks.
But there is no obvious replacement for Rodri, even though City thought they had signed one last summer when they paid £42 million ($51m) for Kalvin Phillips. The England midfielder should be the natural choice to deputise for Rodri, but after an unconvincing performance at St James’ Park he is far from guaranteed another chance, especially when the stakes will be much higher.