For the man who earned that chant in Istanbul in addition to the Champions League final and a treble, it has been a little embarrassing at times this season as he has struggled to measure up to the superhuman standards he has set. Since Pep Guardiola still cannot see Kalvin Phillips in his squad, the Spaniard has missed four games this season due to suspension. As recently as Wednesday, Rodri had recovered from a nasty knock in the Club World Cup final to start at Goodison Park, but he looked tired and uncharacteristically gave the ball away for Everton’s goal.
Despite everything, Rodri remains the man for Manchester City’s greatest moment. It was a perfect way to cap off the year for both him and the squad that he went forward with confidence after Phil Foden’s pass found him to score the first goal. What a team, what a player, and what a year.
Addicts of City will attest to Rodri’s lengthy history of excellence, and any argument that Declan Rice is superior is still absurd given the circumstances (recall how Casemiro was receiving high praise just a year ago?) and the fact that Rodri has been a major contributor to the team’s extraordinary success. But Blues will also be aware from this season that winning at the Etihad with a 1-0 lead isn’t always a surefire way to get three points, as it was over a large portion of Guardiola’s tenure.
Fortunately, this was one of those days when City dominated from beginning to end for the great majority of fans inside the stadium. Sheffield United’s hopes of regaining control of the match were dashed by a composed second-half display that saw Julian Alvarez score his team’s 12-point haul.
The goal of the game, according to the club, is to celebrate an incredible year. To that aim, all five trophies will be on display by the pitch before kickoff, and the match programme cover will feature some of the most memorable events from 2023. Even more impressive was the fact that Kevin De Bruyne was included in the starting lineup for the first time since his hamstring injury reappeared in the season’s first Premier League match; he was greeted with a standing ovation just for getting up from his seat to warm up in the second half, demonstrating how much the team has missed him and how excited they are about what he can bring to the table with Rodri.
The fans was comfortable in their ability to honour the players, as City saw 86% of the ball in the first half and broke the deadlock through a goal from Rodri. The song “Champions again, ole ole” reverberated throughout the stadium for more than sixty seconds.
Guardiola was booked for arguing to the fourth official after it appeared that Bernardo Silva had been fouled on the edge of the box, showing that the home team wasn’t getting everything they wanted. But unlike other games played at this stadium recently, they didn’t let that affect them.
After replacing a (maybe unsurprisingly) subdued Jack Grealish for the final 40 minutes, Oscar Bobb provided a little extra. On the hour mark, he sent a spectacular pass through three opponents to Foden in the area, allowing Alvarez to double the lead. A few minutes later, the Argentine truly wasn’t far off when he brilliantly ran down custodian Wes Foderingham, only to have the ball just miss the crossbar.
With the outcome assured, City could easily control the ball and secure another easy victory in an incredible year. With three draws against Liverpool, Spurs, and Palace destroying what would have been an amazing perfect record but maintaining a run that has seen the Blues undefeated at home since November 2022, this was the 25th victory supporters have witnessed at the Etihad over the previous 12 months.
In addition, it puts them two points clear of the top spot in the Premier League standings, ahead of Arsenal on goal differential going into Sunday’s away match against Fulham. The defending champions may have vanished to the Middle East to win the Club World Cup last week, but upon their return, they made it clear to everyone that they would not be taken out of the race for the Premier League crown.
That assertion will be strengthened by a clean sheet—the first in nine league games and the conclusion of the longest losing streak for any of Guardiola’s teams. If City can improve their defensive play, their opponents will have serious cause for concern.
With just one league match scheduled—away at Newcastle in the middle of the month—January should also be kind to the Blues in terms of injuries. This will give Erling Haaland, De Bruyne, John Stones, and Jeremy Doku plenty of time to heal and avoid missing too many games leading up to the season’s final stretch. With three of the greatest players in the world of football, it goes without saying that City are a whole other animal.
Rodri scores four goals, and his success will be crucial to City’s hopes of winning the title once more. To perform at his best, the Spaniard does require more protection than he received the previous season, but he ended the campaign as the league’s top midfielder.
At the end of the season, City hopes that he will still be in the conversation.