Manchester City were beaten for the fourth time this season by an inspiring Aston Villa, who extended their dominant home form to 14 consecutive victories with a 1-0 win over Pep Guardiola’s side.
City were awful in Birmingham, but what stood out from arguably their worst performance this season was the lack of control in midfield.
That can easily be attributed to the absence of City’s deep-lying playmaker Rodri, who was serving a one-match ban after picking up five yellow cards this season.
Guardiola deployed Manuel Akanji and John Stones to anchor the midfield, but they were outwitted and outclassed by the relentless trio of Boubacar Kamara, Douglas Luiz and John McGinn.
Speaking at a pre-match press conference ahead of the trip to Luton Town, where City will hope to snap a four-match winless streak, Guardiola was reluctant to acknowledge the absence of Rodri as the reason for his side’s downfall.
“Rodri’s so important, definitely,” Guardiola said. “But that’s so simplistic to say one player. I will say it’s not just that – there are many factors.
“There are games and moments where he didn’t play in previous seasons, but we were really good. Maybe there’s a lack of consistency in our process.
“We didn’t have the creativity or the feeling that we would create chances. I didn’t have that feeling, and maybe because Rodri’s not there, I don’t know.
What do the statistics say?
Guardiola may be unwilling to admit Rodri is central to his tactical plot, but the statistics prove the midfielder’s absence always has dire consequences for the Cityzens.
The Spain international midfielder may be unfamiliar with the stench of defeat after embarking on a 43-match unbeaten streak for City across all competitions.
However, his influence is further emphasised by the fact that City have lost four games in all competitions this season – and those defeats have all come without Rodri in the line-up.
Guardiola can play down Rodri’s impact all he wants, but the Spanish midfielder is a vital cog in City’s machine – a rare commodity that has established himself as the chief tempo setter and control provider.
The numbers prove that City are a better team with Rodri in their line-up, and Guardiola’s pieces tend to crumble without him.
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