A bunker mentality is not enough to unsettle champions: there must be a threat from players carrying the ball in wide areas

How do you beat Manchester City? It’s a question football has been trying and largely failing to answer for six years. The two best options seem to be to wait for some traumatic external event to disrupt the season and scramble everybody’s minds, or hope that Pep Guardiola becomes so obsessed by the possibility of being counterattacked that he does something eccentric with his formation (although that tends to work best in Europe). Or you could just wait for Rodri to be unavailable.

Rodri has not played in any of City’s past three defeats (and he didn’t start the 2-0 defeat at Southampton that saw them eliminated from last season’s Carabao Cup). In part, that’s because he is a supremely gifted player; any team would be weaker without him. But it’s also because of what Rodri represents: he offers significant protection against the counterattack because of his remarkable capacity to read the game and almost preternatural anticipation. That not only gives City security but also helps prevent Guardiola from fretting about transitions and having one of his bouts of overthinking.

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