Midfielder Rodri has been widely ridiculed this week after claiming Scotland’s tactics were “not football” in Spain’s shock 2-0 loss in Glasgow.
While Rodri might not seem gracious in defeat, his irritated assessment of his opponents also illustrates the standards the Manchester City midfielder has developed this year, to become the driving force of Pep Guardiola’s team.
He won’t be winning any individual awards and should City storm to a fifth Premier League title in six seasons, it will be Erling Haaland’s goalscoring exploits, Kevin de Bruyne’s effervescence or even Jack Grealish’s new-found output that garner the accolades.
Rodri's stats, however, make for remarkable reading. As much as Casemiro has been lauded for his rejuvenating effect on Manchester United this season, the numbers show Rodri to be very much in a league of his own.
Liverpool’s engine room used to be the beating heart of a relentless beast. Ahead of City's clash against the Reds this Saturday, Rodri will fancy his chances of dominating the middle of the park.
It is hardly surprising the Spaniard sees so much of the ball in such a possessional-based system at City, but the amount Rodri is involved in would even have surpassed Guardiola's expectations.
Just 44 passes separates the players ranked second, third and fourth in the successful passes charts in all competitions this season. The man out in front, however, is way over the horizon.
In 2022/23, Rodri has mustered 2,704 passes - 718 more than Tottenham's Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg in second.
Are these not just sideways passes, the naysayers cry? Possession means nothing if it isn’t penetrative, comes the common reposte. Yet 1,733 of these have been in the opposition half, keeping Rodri well out in front in that regard, while he also leads the way with passes into the final third, in the entire division.
Defensive midfielders need to protect the defence too, and this season Rodri is again the market leader. No player has won possession more often in all competitions than the 26-year-old.
It was not so long ago Fabinho had a similarly controlling influence on his team, steering the Liverpool ship from deep to within a hair's breadth of an unprecedented quadruple last season.
Now, he is the personification of an aging team in decline. There weren’t many who did not foresee Liverpool and City going toe-to-toe once again for the title this season, but just as the two teams have taken very different paths this campaign, so have their midfield anchors.
Rodri is literally twice the player Fabinho is now. From only one more appearance in all competitions this season, City’s midfield metronome has made almost twice the number of passes as his Liverpool rival, more than double in the opposition half, while winning possession on 136 more occasions.
Fabinho’s decline and Liverpool’s demise were always going to go hand in hand, given the importance of a dominant midfield force. Ask Guardiola to name the main catalysts for change at the Etihad and Fernandinho’s name would almost certainly be one of the first mentioned. Now, Guardiola has potentially an even better successor.
In any other team, the recognition would perhaps be much more forthcoming. But City’s raising of the bar has almost made Rodri’s output seem that bit more understandable – just another pristine cog in a imperious machine. The numbers, however, tell a different story.
There are myriad obstacles for Liverpool to overcome if they are to get anything out of their Saturday trip to Manchester – getting the ball off Rodri might just be the most difficult of the lot.