It all seemed so sedate for Manchester City against Nottingham Forest. They were two goals ahead and Rodri, the man who makes them tick in midfield, was his cerebral self until he erupted with anger to get sent off for violent conduct within 60 seconds of the second half beginning.
City had one player fewer for nearly an entire half but the result was never in doubt thanks to goals from Phil Foden and Erling Haaland. It will, however, leave Pep Guardiola to ponder the cost of losing Rodri for three matches, including a trip to Arsenal.
“Hopefully Rodri will learn,” Guardiola said, confirming that the Spaniard had apologised to his teammates. “The game was perfect [for] 35 minutes, both teams tried and after that it became a little bit chaotic. That wasn’t our responsibility, that’s for sure.
“But Rodri had to control himself and his emotions. Because I can get a yellow card but Rodri can’t get a yellow card – I don’t play. The guys who were inside [the pitch], you have to be careful.”
By the time Foden cannoned Kyle Walker’s knock-back, aided by a clever Rodri pass, into the bottom corner in the seventh minute, Forest had touched the ball twice and one of those was a Matt Turner save from a Julián Álvarez free-kick.
Pep Guardiola’s ten men maintained Manchester City’s perfect start to the season, but achieving victory six out of six in the Premier League came at a cost which could impact their ability to extend that run.
It was only last Tuesday that Guardiola described Rodri as the best midfielder in the world. But he was left furious with the Spain international after he lost him for nearly the entire second half against Nottigham Forest and — more importantly — for three domestic games to come, including a visit early next month to last season’s runners-up, Arsenal.
“Yes, I am angry with him,” said Guardiola who revealed that Rodri apologised to his team-mates after the game. “Hopefully, Rodri will learn. The game was perfect for 35 minutes and then became chaos.
“After eight [seasons] here, we know each other really, really well and I said at half-time — be careful, control your emotions. Unfortunately we could not do it and Rodri could not do it. Hopefully, Rodri will learn.”
It was all so unnecessary, if in keeping with a game that stakes an early claim as the most inexplicably card-riddled of the season.
This was the kind of football Manchester City once knew: a deep-lying defence, goal-kicks launched up to Erling Haaland and on the touchline, Pep Guardiola beseeching the home fans to raise the intensity as the clock wound down and a lead had to be preserved.
Rodri’s sending off just 27 seconds into the second half had changed everything. Suddenly, with 45 minutes plus to defend two goals, and just 10 men to do it, City had to abandon a lot of what they hold dear. Guardiola substituted the flair of Julian Alvarez and Jeremy Doku. He switched to five at the back. He even brought on Kalvin Phillips. The English midfielder had played 13 minutes across two games previously this season but this time he got 40 minutes and his manager needed him.
For the champions of Europe, the champions of England, and holders of the FA Cup, life can be very easy. It feels that Guardiola only has to press play for this team to dominate all but a few opponents. They kept the ball for a sequence of 46 passes in the build-up to Phil Foden’s goal on seven minutes. Forest had barely touched it by the time Haaland got a second on 14 minutes. Their confidence eroding swiftly, there was little Forest could do in the first half but try to fill the gaps and hang on.
On Tuesday, Pep Guardiola had been happy to eulogise about Rodri, quick to agree when it was suggested his fellow Spaniard was the best midfielder in Europe at the moment. Yet as the man who earned Manchester City their first Champions League trudged past him, Guardiola stood and stared. There were no consoling words, no arm around the shoulder, no superlatives and no celebration.
The City manager may have already been counting the cost of a red card. Not against Nottingham Forest, who were beaten anyway, but for the three occasions when he will be without a talisman. Rodri will be banned against Newcastle, in the Carabao Cup, plus Wolves and Arsenal in the Premier League. The loss of a big-game player for the biggest match of City’s season so far could be telling. A couple of seasons ago, Rodri was City’s match-winner against Arsenal. There will be no repeat in October and the chances are that Mikel Arteta will welcome his suspension.
Certainly, if anything halts City, who equalled their longest winning start to a Premier League campaign, it could be a loss of key players. Suddenly Guardiola, the manager who collects midfielders, looks short of them. Ilkay Gundogan is gone, Kevin de Bruyne is injured for the long term, Mateo Kovacic and Bernardo Silva for the short term. City will study the fitness bulletins for the Croatian and the Portuguese, particularly ahead of the trip to the Emirates Stadium. A rare sighting of Kalvin Phillips on the pitch, and not merely for the last couple of minutes in a token cameo, counted as a desperate measure, by Guardiola’s standards.
Manchester City’s Rodri will miss three matches after being sent off for grabbing Nottingham Forest’s Morgan Gibbs-White around the neck.
The Spain star, arguably the best midfielder in the Premier League over the last 18 months, was red carded just 27 seconds after half-time on Saturday following an incident near the corner flag. He will miss matches against Newcastle United, Wolves and Arsenal, his dismissal for violent conduct coming with an automatic three-match ban.
The match official, Anthony Taylor, had initially shown the red card after spotting Rodri place his hands on the neck of Gibbs-White, after a flare up between the two players had seen them go head to head, after the City man initially pushed away Forest’s No.10.
As they came face to face once more, Rodri grabbed Gibbs-White, albeit briefly, before the England Under-21 international paused and hit the deck. VAR duly checked, and stayed with the on-field decision.
Rodri committed the needless act of violence that disfigured what should have been one of Pep Guardiola’s greatest works.
The Spaniard was sent off a minute into the second half after an ugly clash with Morgan Gibbs-White.
Yet at that stage the majority within the Etihad were wondering only how many their heroes would win by – again – although they were probably being joined in that by Forest fans too.
Early strikes from Phil Foden and Erling Haaland, both the results of fabulous, almost whimsical football, had put Manchester City in a wonderful place.
Then, from nowhere, it got wild as Rodri red-misted – and while the ten men got the job done Ederson still had to make one late, great intervention to keep out Wily Boly’s blockbuster before belly-diving on Anthony Elanga’s rebound effort.