Premier League champions Manchester City broke their transfer record for the third time in three transfer windows in the summer of 2019 with the purchase of midfielder Rodrigo ‘Rodri’ Hernández Cascante.
City activated the €70million release clause imposed to bring him to England after a single season at Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid.
Being the second most expensive footballer ever for a player in his natural position - following Frenkie de Jong’s move from Ajax to Barcelona - expectations are high for the Spain international moving into the 2019/20 season, particularly with the universal expectation for him being the beloved Fernandinho’s heir apparent.
The 34-year-old Fernandinho has entered his seventh season with Manchester City and remains wholeheartedly appreciated by the Blues faithful as one of the catalysts for three of their four league titles won in the Sheikh Mansour-era.
In Rodri’s first foray into English football, the tutelage of Fernandinho - 11 years his senior - will be vital in maintaining domestic dominance. Fortunately the Brazilian has been outspoken in his enthusiasm to train his successor.
He said: “We are going to work closely, and I will be there for him to talk and advise him with whatever he needs, but of course he’s already a quality player who I like very much.
“He has done really well in pre-season and in the first few games he’s played in the Premier League. He’s tall, technically very good and he’s going to help us a lot this season and for the future.”
His manager and former Barcelona anchor Pep Guardiola has also stated he is of the firm opinion that the midfielder is already better than he was during his playing career, being ‘more complete’ and that ‘"He will become a top top midfielder for the future”.
Rodri gained his official introduction in the Community Shield win over Liverpool at Wembley, the domestic-treble champions continuing their streak of silverware on penalties, and to give their new signing a slight taste of success.
His Premier League debut against West Ham United was questionable, displaying the expected uncertainty of a player in new pastures. In his first two games for Manchester City, Rodri has been involved in two contentious decisions, the second to the detriment of the incumbent champions result.
In the subsequent gameweek against Spurs at the Etihad, the midfielder was the subject of over-enthusiastic pressure from Erik Lamela, which should have drawn a penalty decision in favour of the home side. Video Assistant Refereeing wasn’t used in this occasion by official Michael Oliver, drawing the ire of the Blue crowd, but also encouraging the appreciation of the brand new member within their ranks.
Rodri now has two 90 minute games under his belt, and was only withdrawn in City’s last game within the last 15 minutes after a peerless performance against Tottenham Hotspur
He’s already well versed in Manchester City’s tactical foul prolificacy, demonstrated immediately in East London on separate occasions with sufficient stifling of Manuel Lanzini, Declan Rice and Jack Wilshere from behind to send the three Hammers to ground and cut out the play. Wilshere in particular could have made more of an issue when coming under the challenge of a Rodri recovery in the offensive box, but conceded ‘the cleverness’ of Manchester City’s tactics or which their new signing was a clear instigator.
In their first two games, Manchester City have conceded 27 fouls to their opponents combined 10. And Rodri has been more than privy to complement. He also combines this with a passing ability so intrinsically identifiable within the City set-up; he has a passing success rate of 93.8% in the Premier League. In the Spurs fixture, he produced the highest number of tackles and interceptions while his 98.3% passing accuracy from his 57 was also the strongest ratio on the pitch.
The prevalent theory proposes that Fernandinho’s role will be shifted on occasion into the heart of defence, somewhat subsidising the chasm felt by club legend Vincent Kompany’s departure back to Anderlecht in the summer. This would grant Rodri unobstructed on-pitch experience whilst satisfying Fernandinho's status as a still-prominent member of the squad. Again Guardiola’s tactical nous and City’s astute purchasing is becoming evident. Rodri may just be the cog to keep this Manchester City freight train fired.