Liverpool knows better than most the damage dropping points early in the season can have on your title aspirations. So Reds fans will no doubt take a lot of pleasure in seeing Manchester City drop six points in its last three games.
By its own absurdly high standards, Pep Guardiola’s side has been a long way off recently. On the face of it, draws against Chelsea, Liverpool and Tottenham are not the worst results you could record, but the manner in which they gave up points against the two London sides while conceding seven goals in the process will cause a certain degree of concern at the Etihad.
Not that Liverpool or Jürgen Klopp will care, of course. Man City’s mini-slump has enabled the Reds to take advantage and leapfrog their great rival to become Arsenal’s closest challenger in the Premier League title race.
Of course, City is nowhere near being out of the challenge, sitting just a point behind Liverpool and three behind Arsenal. But the fixtures don’t get any easier this week for Guardiola with a trip to Aston Villa on Wednesday, made all the harder by the absence of arguably his most important player.
Rodri will miss the trip to the Midlands after picking up his fifth booking of the season against Spurs on Sunday. You might expect a team like Manchester City, with all its riches and abundance of quality in its squad, to be able to cope with just one regular starter missing, but we’ve already seen this season that isn’t the case.
After all, this is Rodri’s second suspension of the season. The first saw the Spanish international miss three games after being sent off against Nottingham Forest, and Man City’s form took something of a nosedive.
A defeat to Newcastle in the Carabao Cup was followed up by further losses against Wolves and Arsenal. Three defeats in a row is practically unheard of for this City side, perfectly demonstrating Rodri’s importance.
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In fact, according to WhoScored.com, following that defeat to Arsenal, City’s record without Rodri since the start of the 2022/23 season stood at played 11, won six, lost five. It’s no wonder Guardiola has ‘maybe the best’ holding midfielder in the world (via the Guardian).
The problem City has is it simply doesn’t have an adequate replacement for the 27-year-old, or at least not one that Guardiola trusts. We previously wrote about his decision not to start Kalvin Phillips against Wolves, and how that was a damning indictment of the $57m (£45m/€53m) transfer.
Given Phillips has only played 49 minutes for City since that game, we certainly shouldn’t expect him to feature at Villa either. Unai Emery’s side is a much tougher prospect than Wolves though, so going without a defensive midfielder would be a huge risk, and it’s not as if City has been keeping things tight with Rodri in the side recently anyway.
The Spaniard’s absence could therefore present an opportunity for Liverpool to extend its slender advantage over Manchester City in the Premier League. If Guardiola’s side slips up again, the Reds must capitalize.