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Premier League Scouting Report: Rodri

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Can the Spanish international be the final piece of Pep Guardiola’s puzzle to bring City into an era of utter domination?

Rodri - Manchester City Unveil New Signing - Premier League
Manchester City Unveil New Signing
Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images

Not many may realize it, but the biggest bargain of the summer transfer window has already happened. There is a reason why Pep Guardiola has set his sights on the Spanish international Rodri, the ‘new Sergio Busquets’ who is about to unleash an extremely impactful effect. He has received relatively little attention, but this signing could put Manchester City in good hands for the next decade.

The Citizens splashed £63 million to grab hold of the 23-year-old midfielder from Atletico Madrid, raising a few eyebrows. Even so, where is the hype surrounding this signing, who becomes the fifth most-expensive player to join a Premier League side at a new record for City?

The Premier League champions have a jam-packed squad in every possible position and at each role, creating so much competition in the dressing room that most players are striving for their places. But there was one specific area that was lacking: a backup defensive midfielder to Fernandinho.

Guardiola’s interest for Rodri shouldn’t really be a surprise, as it was the same manager who gave a young Sergio Busquets his bow in the greatest Barcelona team of all time. After playing in that position himself, Pep knows the insides of the defensive midfielder role which is another plus point.

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Who is Rodri?

The footballer – full name Rodrigo Hernandez Cascante – was born June 23, 1996 in Madrid. He began his fundamental knowledge of the sport at Rayo Majahadahonda in 2006. He even managed to play for Spain’s U-16 side twice. After a year, he joined Atletico Madrid’s youth system in 2007 at age 11, but was released in 2013.

After a long six years with the club’s youth team, Rodri walked away on a free transfer and subsequently signed for Spain’s east coast team Villarreal. The reason for his dismissal was that Los Rojiblancos believed the midfielder wasn’t big enough, lacking the physique to make it at Atleti. As a 17-year-old, Rodri was leaving a club that was crowned La Liga champions the following season and has not finished outside the top three in Spain since.

During his trip to Villarreal, he guaranteed his family that he would carry on his studies, and he did exactly just that at the University of Castellon. As an 18-year-old in 2015, the former Rayo Majahadahonda player made his debut for Villarreal’s reserve team in the second division. Rodri made his first team debut after 10 months, during the Copa del Rey against Huesca. Ironically, he came on as a substitute to former City player Denis Suarez for his La Liga debut against Rayo Vallecano.

The Spaniard continued his education in business studies and economics, moving from the players’ house to live in student halls of residence. There came a point where he was advised by the Spain’s east coast team second-hand minicar Opel Corsa that driving four hours between his family home in Madrid and his university wasn’t really a great idea. Eventually, he gained a degree in business studies and economics while playing at the highest level in La Liga.

”People were shocked when they saw Rodri, who was playing in the top flight but still living at the university residence,” Valentin Henarejo, his friend, explained.

”After the first few days of getting to know him, there was normality.

”He shared a space with everyone, he liked being with his friends and sitting on the sofa with everyone.

”But, of course, at the start it was strange seeing him playing table tennis or doing his washing.” (Source: MARCA)

Villarreal never finished below fifth with Rodri as a first-team player. That ensured the midfielder playing 63 league games and 84 in total, making enough statement for Atletico to buy him back in 2018 for a £17.8m fee, with £5m in add-ons.

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What is so special about Rodri?

In order to become the driving force, one needs a good instructor to lead the way, and that’s what Rodri will bring to the rest of the squad at Manchester City.

The midfield general is seen as the heir to Fernandinho’s throne, as the Brazilian is on the verge of not being at his best due to his age. The 34-year-old has been a great servant for Guardiola’s side and was irreplaceable for many seasons, especially last term, when City lost as many games (2) in six matches without Fernandinho as they did in the 29 games with him. That speaks volumes.

Fernandinho - Manchester City - Premier League
Fernandinho and Pep Guardiola have enjoyed a special relationship at Manchester City.
Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Rodri joins the Citizens to maintain or even surpass that level. The 23-year-old’s abilities and techniques are what Guardiola needs, which is why this mega-signing is the final piece in the puzzle to help City win their dream quadruple.

City’s new £62.6m man was the only midfielder in La Liga to make more than 100 tackles attempted. His 2,372 touches were second, and he made 1,927 passes with 91% accuracy. He also recovered the ball on 600 occasions over the past two seasons. These stats are fabulous.

The former Villarreal man is the key that will break up opposition play, take control, and become the channel to move the ball forward.

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Rodri’s key stats in La Liga 2018-19 (league rank in brackets)

  • Aerial win %: 67.8% (2nd)
  • Successful Passes: 1,756 (6th)
  • Passing accuracy: 91.1% (5th)
  • Possession won: 280 (2nd)
  • Tackles: 103 (1st)

(Source: BBC)

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Will Rodri be a Good Fantasy Asset?

A busy summer for Fernandinho — who played for Brazil in the Copa America — could open the way for Rodri to jump straight into the starting XI when City opens its league campaign on August 10. The major difference between Rodri (£5.5m FPL price) and Fernandinho (also £5.5m) will be that the Spaniard always looks forward to initiate attacking play and is relatively better in aerial wins as well.

Every fantasy manager would want a player who is likely to start, but one wants a player to provide some sort of points too. Having scored just three goals plus one assist at Atletico, we can expect Rodri to play a defensive minded role at the base of the midfield in City’s 4-1-2-3 system. Therefore, we shouldn’t expect him to earn many points for himself (especially in FPL). Instead, this midfield general’s primary effect will be to provide more opportunities to the exceptional players in front of him.

Quick, incisive passes to the fierce wingers whose run-in-behind mode is always a threat — that’s a very dangerous thought for Premier League opponents. Wingers such as Raheem Sterling (£12.0m), Bernando Silva (£8.0m), Riyad Mahrez (£8.5m) and Sane (£9.5m) will profit from Rodri’s impeccable precision.

But the player who should benefit the most from Rodri’s presence is Kevin De Bruyne (£9.5m). After an injury-prone 2018-19, the midfielder is set to bring back the fiery form he presented to the world two years ago, and having Rodri playing through from behind means the Belgian can move forward with his creativity across the field.

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Summary

City gains a young, intelligent leader who will take charge for another decade, one fitting Pep’s style of intricate build-up play and with the ability to bring the best out of those around him. In today’s market, many players are being bought for price-tags they’ll never justify. However, though £62.6 million might look like overpaying right now, investing in a youthful player with amazing talent is absolutely worth it. In fact, this deal is the biggest bargain of the summer.

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So what’s your take on Rodri’s move to City? Do you think he will transform into an FPL points machine, or like me do you expect a more subtle boost to players in front of him? What about Fantrax leagues where more phantom points are in play? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments!

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