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Opinion

Rodri and the pivotal six role

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12th March, 2020
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Several aspects of Pep Guardiola’s tactical model can be attributed to Manchester City’s recent success.

From inverted fullbacks to overloads and half-spaces, nothing has had a bigger impact than Fernandinho occupying the single pivot six role.

Fernandinho has now slipped in to the centre-back role with the departure of Vincent Kompany, allowing new marquee signing Rodri to fill the six. However good the Spaniard’s first season with the Sky Blues has been, it is questionable how effectively he can replace Fernandinho in this role.

He has proven to be an exceptional passing talent, but can he adopt Guardiola’s model entirely as the single-pivot midfielder and fill holes in defence while the fullbacks look to overload and get forward?

Pep Guardiola’s playing days saw him at Barcelona under legendary manager and Dutch international Johan Cruyff. Cruyff employed the now world-famous total football model, which during his playing career saw the Netherlands dominate world football with a somewhat position-less style.

Under Cruyff, Guardiola competed as a single-pivot midfielder, more commonly known as either central defensive midfielder or the number six. In a 4-3-3, the single-pivot refers to a midfield three where one single holding midfielder sits as the central midfielders occupy the space ahead forming a diamond with the centre forward.

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There are numerous ways that the six can be played but under Guardiola it is important that the player occupying this role possesses certain qualities. Amazingly at 23 years old, it would seem that Rodri has it all, including a beautiful touch with vision that extends the pitch. Rodri’s passing range allow wingers like Raheem Sterling to get into isolation situations, exploiting one-on-one situations out wide.

Rodri

(Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Both Claude Makelele and Sergio Busquets have been the players who best define this role. Many believe that Barcelona and Spain would not have so much recent success if it was not for the particular way that Busquets graces the position. What is most notable about Busquets’ game is the way in which he can block vertical passing lanes on defence and fills holes for players moving forward.

Fernandinho’s time in City’s midfield has gone underrated as playing the six is not a glamorous role. Very rarely are they the player who is scoring goals and making goal-saving tackles. The intangibles become so important and make this the most valuable position on the pitch.

So far in his City tenure Rodri has proved invaluable. At 23 years of age Rodri has displayed world-class performances and established himself as cool, calm and collected in all situations. What is most impressive about his first season with the club is his passing masterclass, which has seen him string together 1996 passes with a passing accuracy of 92 per cent, scoring higher than legendary CDM Sergio Busquets, who still boasts a tidy 89 per cent for roughly the same minutes.

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Rodri’s arsenal also consists of the defensive attributes needed to play this role and his physical make-up allows him to mark his presence from the first whistle. The Spaniard can slip into the back line when the fullbacks move forward and fills holes brilliantly, allowing City to outnumber opposing teams in specific areas of the pitch. He has also proved that when doing so, he has the ability to switch the play with his passing range forcing opposing defences to shift from side to side in order to cater for isolation situations.

A magnificent addition to an all-star outfit, will Rodri continue to stamp his name on the Premier League and become one of the world’s best?