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Talking Tactics

How Rodri and Cancelo have become crucial for Man City

Adrian Clarke 31 May 2022
Man City, Rodri & Cancelo, Talking Tactics

Adrian Clarke highlights the improvement and impact of the title-winning duo

Adrian Clarke analyses Manchester City's campaign and why they won the title.

Unsung heroes

While Manchester City's Premier League title success was a triumph for the collective, a pair of fast-improving unsung heroes emerged in 2021/22.

Rodri and Joao Cancelo looked more comfortable with Pep Guardiola's unique tactical demands and stepped up a level to consistently deliver outstanding performances.

Their combined strengths off the ball helped to protect a goalkeeper who was forced into only 62 saves in the entire campaign, 20 fewer than nearest rivals Liverpool.

The pair were also dangerous in attack, amassing 17 goals and assists between them, compared to nine the previous season.

Midfield linchpin

Rodri was the Premier League's best defensive midfielder in 2021/22, providing a solid platform at the base of midfield.

Gliding round the pitch, he broke up play better than anyone else, making 17 recoveries per 1,000 opposition touches, far more than anybody else.

Recoveries and successful passes 
Recoveries/1,000 opp. touches  Succ. passes in opp. half/90
Rodri 17.01 Rodri 47.35
Phillips 12.84 Cancelo 43.27
Alexander-Arnold 12.49 Henderson 40.97
Ndidi 12.22 Walker 40.05
Cancelo 12.08 Laporte 38.65

Rodri was also invaluable in possession, finding a team-mate with 91.8 per cent of his passes.

Feeding the likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden, he topped the list for the most successful passes inside the opposition half.

Notably Cancelo, who supports attacks excellently as an inverted full-back, made the second-highest number of passes.

City's average share of possession rose from 63 per cent to 68 per cent this term and their ability to shift the ball early ensured their monopoly of it did not feel laborious.

Vital goals

Rodri scored seven league goals this season, including four from outside the box.

He thumped home long-range shots against Everton and versus Watford, while he clinically passed the ball into the bottom corner against Arsenal and versus Aston Villa, playing a key role in the dramatic turnaround that won City the title on the final day.

Rodri's crucial strike v Villa

The 25-year-old was a threat in the air, scoring two excellent headed goals from set-pieces, while he scrambled home a precious winner in the final moments of the 2-1 win at Arsenal, which proved to be vital.

In every aspect of City's play - defensively, creatively and in the final third - Rodri supplied excellence this season.

Brilliantly versatile

Portugal international Cancelo was also extraordinarily impressive during this title-winning season.

The adventurous full-back produced one goal and seven assists, and was unlucky not to score more.

He ended the campaign with the joint-most shots from outside the box in the league, alongside Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes.

Cancelo offers creativity from both flanks, while he is also one of the best tacklers around.

Top stats for defenders 2021/22
Tackles won Shots outside box Assists Chances created*
Cucurella 62 Cancelo 51 Alexander-Arnold 12 Alexander-Arnold 51
Mitchell 57 Alexander-Arnold 35 Robertson  10 James 42
Cancelo 54 Rudiger 20 James 9 Cucurella 40
Cash 50 James 18 Cancelo 7 Robertson 38
Veltman 48 Alonso 16 Femenia 5 Cancelo 36

*In open play

Tactically, Cancelo is perfect for City's style of play.

The 27-year-old is equally strong as a left or right-back in City's 4-3-3 formation and is comfortable sliding across into central midfield to link attacks.

With Kyle Walker missing so many matches through injury, Cancelo's adaptability proved invaluable.

Rodri and Cancelo are not unknowns. They have always been regarded as good players.

However, this season, both men raised their levels to become indispensable members of the title-winning squad.

Also in this series

Part 1: How the champions divided their attack to conquer
Part 2: How Man City used set-pieces to deliver another triumph

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