Rodri's rocket sends Manchester City top after thriller at Sheffield United

Champions give spirited Blades the chop in dramatic game at Bramall Lane

Manchester City's Rodri celebrates after scoring the winning goal against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Getty
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For a little under four minutes in Yorkshire on Sunday afternoon, Manchester City's rivals were offered a glimmer of hope.

With the treble winners out of sorts, perhaps rattled by a pugnacious and occasionally brutal Sheffield United side, they looked set to drop their first points of the new season.

Erling Haaland, who had uncharacteristically missed a first-half penalty, opened the scoring on the hour, but Kyle Walker's late defensive meltdown ended with Jayden Bogle plundering an 85th-minute equaliser, and it seemed, just for the briefest of moments, that City's 100 per cent start was about to come to an end.

In fact, that feeling lasted for about three and a half minutes as the visitors were stung into an immediate riposte.

Walker, playing against his boyhood club and eager to make amends, won the ball back on the right flank and fed a low cross into the box. Substitute Phil Foden's touch was poor but lucky and the ball sat up perfectly for Rodri – City's midfield anchor with a proclivity for pivotal goals – and the Spaniard sent a shot arrowing into the top corner of the Blades' net.

The 27-year-old, who now has two goals in the club's opening three league matches, admitted City weren't at their best but felt their determination and patience were the keys to victory.

"We worked a lot today," he said. "It's one of the games where you have to be patient until the end because they’re very narrow.

"Great credit to them. They defended so good today. In the end, we had the first chance with the penalty and unfortunately we missed.

"But we kept trying and trying till the end. Erling [Haaland] needed one, two, three chances but he is a goalscorer and he scored for us.

"The mistake for the goal cannot happen again. The mentality of the game didn’t drop, we kept going and at the end I got the goal so I am very happy."

The visitors were always going to be in for a noisy afternoon at a typically feisty Bramall Lane.

However, the loudest voice they are used to hearing on a match day – that of manager Pep Guardiola – was conspicuous by its absence, the Catalan coach supposedly convalescing in Barcelona following back surgery. The reality was that he was coaching his side remotely, his assistant Juanma Lillo his conduit to the players.

For the hosts, the game could have been described as a free hit, although they appeared to take that a little too literally as they set about the Premier League champions with a series of robust challenges.

Haaland, in particular, struggled to shake off the attention of the home defenders.

For 62 minutes it looked like, for once, it wasn't going to be his day. City's Norse talisman dragged a first-half penalty against the post, missed a further golden opportunity and spent an hour skirmishing with the Blades' Bosnian defender Anel Ahmedhodzic.

Yet with his body – and his ego – more than a little bruised, his eardrums throbbing from the taunts of the home support, Haaland finally made the breakthrough.

It owed much to some trickery from Jack Grealish, himself a target for some ferocious challenges, as the England winger stood up a perfect cross for the striker to powerfully head home at the back post.

But despite hitting the front, City failed to shake off their tenacious hosts, and a 1-0 advantage always seemed precarious.

So it proved as Walker inexplicably attempted a back-heel in his own box and the ball was fed wide to Bogle who rifled a low shot, via a slight deflection, beyond Ederson's flailing grasp and into the far corner.

The call immediately came in from Barcelona – Foden for Mateo Kovacic – and the City substitute, who had spent the week nursing a sickness bug, inadvertently turned the determined Walker's cross into the path of Rodri to conclude a breathless end to the game.

Updated: August 27, 2023, 8:46 PM