Manchester City parted with £56million in 2019 for defensive midfielder Rodri with the promise that he would be the long-term successor to Fernandinho.

The City skipper has been a sure starter since he arrived at the Etihad in 2014, but at 36 years of age he just doesn't have the legs anymore. There’s no doubting that Rodri is a quality player, but some fans question his ability to fill the Brazilian’s boots.

In his first season at the club, the young Spaniard understandably took some time to bed in. While he started 29 Premier League games he often played alongside Fernandinho, following his lead and learning from his older teammate. Rodri impressed, even if at times he looked a little uncomfortable and clumsy on the ball.

In 2020/21, he showed that the defensive midfield role at City could be his for many years to come.

Rodri hasn't convinced everyone that he can fill Fernandinho's shoes. (Photo by Getty images)
Rodri hasn't convinced everyone that he can fill Fernandinho's shoes. (Photo by Getty images)

He made 31 league starts compared to Fernandinho ’s 12, evidently making him the preferred option at the base of the midfield three.

He even outperformed Fernandinho on a number of metrics. Rodri was in the top 96th percentile for pass completion in Europe’s top five leagues with a staggeringly high rate of 91.5 percent. He was better than Fernandinho when it came to short, medium and long passing, executing the latter category better by 13 percentage points.

With the ball at his feet he proved to be much better than many give him credit for, with a dribble success rate of 82.9 percent, bettering his counterpart’s 66.7 percent. These figures suggest that Rodri is more than good enough to spread the ball around midfield but also keep the ball when no options are available.

Where he falls down slightly is his progressiveness with the ball. In terms of carries, where the ball is moved at least five yards towards the opponent’s goal, Rodri only made 6.2 per 90 minutes compared to Fernandinho’s 10.2.

Despite making 13 more league appearances than Fernandinho, Rodri carried the ball into the final third only a handful more times. This suggests that the young midfielder is less confident when dribbling forward in attack, something that may improve with age and experience.

Fernandinho gets to the ball ahead of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. (Photo by Getty Images)
Fernandinho gets to the ball ahead of Leicester City's Jamie Vardy. (Photo by Getty Images)

The way City play going forward means that it is incredibly important that there is an intelligent and agile defensive midfielder present to snuff out counter-attacks and dig out the centre-backs when needed. Rodri’s 1.3 interceptions per 90 compared to Fernandinho’s 1.9 suggests that he has work to do on this front if he is to provide the same protection.

He also needs to completely cut the mistakes out of his game, having made two errors that led directly to a shot by the opponent last season. The standard set by Fernandinho is zero such errors. While that seems a small number, when you commit as many men forward as City do then mistakes in front of the defence can be costly.

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However, that isn’t to downplay Rodri’s defensive capabilities. His 72.2 percent tackle success rate last season was impressive, and with a successful pressure percentage of 38.1, no midfielder in the Premier League is better at pressing.

From a purely physical standpoint, Rodri offers something a bit different too. At 6 ft and 2.5 inches, he is four inches taller than his counterpart, likely explaining why he won 76.5 percent of his aerial duels last season compared to Fernandinho’s 61.7 percent. Aerial ability is always a useful trait for a defensive midfielder, as winning first-time balls reduces the likelihood of the opposition taking up advantageous positions near the City box.

Rodri offers City an aerial presence in midfield. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)
Rodri offers City an aerial presence in midfield. (Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images)

Ultimately, what this comes down to are the expectations of City fans. Fernandinho’s time in Manchester has seen him become one of the world’s best in his position, so anyone would have a hard time succeeding him.

That Rodri doesn’t yet seem quite as assured, street-wise and savvy as the man he is replacing was to be expected. But given time, he’ll be one of the best defensive midfielders around.


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