Football Features

‘Rodri is ridiculous’: Five things learned from Man City’s Community Shield triumph over Liverpool

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 17:24, 4 August 2019

In a balmy afternoon at Wembley, Manchester City beat Liverpool 5-4 on penalties to win the Community Shield.

It was a game of two halves as City bossed the first whilst Liverpool had the better chances in the second, and appropriately each side scored when they were ahead to see the game end 1-1 and go to penalties. There City prevailed, but what did we learn?

1. Ridiculous Rodri

Every time Pep Guardiola manages a club, he needs a wizard at the base of midfield for his team to truly shine. At Barcelona he produced Sergio Busquets, at Bayern Munich he had Xabi Alonso (after a brief cameo from Philipp Lahm) but at Manchester City he’s had to make do with Fernandinho. Now, the Brazilian has been an excellent performer and one hell of a servant but he is nowhere near Busquets and Alonso.

This summer they signed Rodri from Atlético Madrid and if you watched the Community Shield then you would have seen the transformative effect that Rodri has had on the way City. It’s not just the details like Rodri being a “better” passer than Fernandinho or anything as sterile. Rodri understands football in the same way Guardiola does.

Rodri has that ability to hold the ball, invite pressure and then release it into space that is created behind the pressing players. He has what the Spanish call pausa. And now because he has it, so do Manchester City – it was on display repeatedly against Liverpool as the Spaniard outmanoeuvred the Reds’ midfield press, making just one error of judgement against the second best team in the country in his first City game. Now City have Rodri there’s no telling what may happen. Duck and cover sports fans, Pep’s finally got his wizard!

2. Van Dijk still a class apart

Liverpool’s performance was kind of strange. They were nowhere near City in the first-half but managed to rebound in the second to create several half-chances and increase the pressure on Guardiola’s men. None of their players really shone in an attacking sense besides Mohamed Salah and he let himself down with some poor finishing. In many ways a lot of the stardust that seemed to surround everything Liverpool did at the end of last season had abandoned them at the start of this.

Except, that is, Virgil van Dijk. Because of course the Dutch defender was incredible. No matter that every other Liverpool player falls off, Van Dijk will remain a towering colossus (even if someone has finally dribbled past him in a Liverpool shirt). In the first-half he was so often the lone bulwark against a relentless sky blue tide, and helped keep it down to just 1-0. Then in the second-half he was constantly intercepting the ball or clearing it away and stopping City’s counters with an almost impossible composure.

And when time came for an equaliser, who else was going to create it but Van Dijk? Liverpool’s lofted cross found him at the back-post but what he did there, gently lifting the ball back into the area for Joel Matip to head home, was just delightful. It was visually fitting (if only a coincidence) that he was handed the captain’s armband a couple of minutes later. Liverpool’s true leader.

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3. Less is more

In their preparations for 2019/20, Liverpool have played seven pre-season games, beginning on the 11th July and ending on the final day of that month. Manchester City, meanwhile, played just four times. They starter later than Liverpool (17th July) and ended earlier too (27th July). Now, conventional wisdom tells that the more games you have “under your belt” the sharper you look.

Well anyone who watched the Community Shield will have big questions for that theory because in almost every aspect of play, Manchester City looked far sharper than Liverpool. Guardiola’s men were well-drilled tactically and looked sharp enough to press and pass the Reds into submission. On the other hand, Klopp’s boys had a look of mid-season lethargy about them.

In the second half Liverpool did look brighter, but that seemed to be a tactical and psychological issue (with them desperate to claw back City’s 1-0 lead whilst City were fine to defend it) more than anything else. City never looked ragged or against the ropes even though Guardiola said they were “exhausted” in the last 15 minutes, they were always able to play their game despite having played vastly less pre-season minutes.

Perhaps now, as data begins to really improve understanding of football and physicality, the old truisms that running players into the ground with a physically punishing pre-season schedule to get them “up to speed” is no longer appropriate.

4. Zinchenko is no answer

One major negative for Manchester City was the left-hand side of their defence. In particular Oleksandr Zinchenko. The Ukrainian was an attacking midfield prospect before last season’s injury crisis saw Guardiola deploy him at left-back, where he acquitted himself admirably. This led to him being given the No. 11 shirt and, presumably, the job as starting left-back.

That’s not a good sign for Manchester City. Zinchenko is good and will work his socks off to play reasonably well at left-back. He’ll be good for weaker opponents in the league and some in Europe. But against the very best sides? There will always be a gap in class there. Salah torched Zinchenko repeatedly today and were it not for some exceptional interventions from Nico Otamendi and shoddy finishing from Salah himself, the game could have ended so differently despite the balance of play. City need a left-back.

5. Bravo, Bravo!

Kyle Walker was an immense performer today, with an incredible bicycle kick clearance off the line in stoppage time, but Walker being a defensive dynamo is not a surprise. His haircut is admittedly quite interesting and makes him look like Vincent Kompany from afar, but nothing new was there. Claudio Bravo, on the other hand, was a revelation.

Everyone remembers how terrible Bravo was in Pep’s first season for Manchester City. The man couldn’t make a save! Opponents knew that if they could get a shot on target there was a reasonable chance they could score. This completely destroyed City’s ability to do anything because every attack had no margin for error. Then they signed Ederson and it looked like Bravo’s time was up.

But no, it was not. Bravo has grown a beard and become something of a cup hero. He shone as City won the 2018 EFL Cup, but injury made him miss their two cup final wins last year. He’s back now, and seems to have found something akin to his form for Barcelona. He was immense today against Liverpool, handling almost everything the Reds could throw at him. He was diving all over his goal making saves simple and super. He even stepped up in the shoot-out to deny Gini Wijnaldum and effectively win City the trophy. Bravo is a man transformed and if he keeps playing like that, would you bet against City retaining their domestic treble?