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Rodri: “No one plays better than Spain”

Rodri is one of the leaders in Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side and has similar status for Spain, where Luis Enrique uses him as a central defender.

Rodri is one of the linchpins within Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City side - the club he joined from Atlético Madrid in July 2019. He is one of the best holding midfielders in the Premier League, but with Spain, he plays deeper since Luis Enrique decided to experiment by dropping him into the back four.

Many people will have asked you about changing your position to centre-back. Do you feel more comfortable there?

Yes, every day I feel more settled, acquiring concepts and above all communicating a lot with my colleagues. In the end, the secret lies in good communication with your central defensive partner and the full-backs, and working as a unit, almost like an accordion. Every day is better.

The other day Spain’s defence looked solid, but despite that, Rüdiger scored from a set-piece although it was disallowed for offside. Is there a need to improve on that area of your game?

In that specific move we didn’t drop back, we held the line. It was just a mistake that someone got through at the wrong time. Luckily for us, he was caught offside - just by a few centimetres. But our mission is not to mark players, it’s to hold the line.

What else does Luis Enrique ask of you as centre-back?

He wants us to show personality when we have the ball - he wants to see us always wanting to play it. It is clear that it is difficult when they press us man-to-man. And in defence, have the situations under control on my side and that both central defenders are aware of our heights. Being aggressive in duels, being consistent... What is required of any central defender.

 Rodri in action against Germany. REUTERS/Molly Darlington
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Rodri in action against Germany. REUTERS/Molly DarlingtonMOLLY DARLINGTONREUTERS

And what about going forward? You always go up for set-pieces.

Yes, I already did that when I was playing in midfield. Perhaps we could take better advantage of the set-pieces get get, we generate little from strategic moves but maybe we can work to improve that.

Spain are given very few fouls...

They tend to get called more in midfield than in attack, but I’m referring to things like corners, which we generate a lot of and we could get more revenue from.

What do you say to people who think we've already beaten Japan?

That the Japan game is going to be very hard. They are one of the best teams at a collective level, perhaps they do not have great individual qualities. They are very intense and they risk everything like us, so we will go with our idea from the beginning to try to win. We are not going to speculate.

How dangerous are Japan for centre-backs?

It is true that when you play against different teams you have to change the way you approach things. They have dynamic players, perhaps a little wilder in some ways. We’ll need to make sure we are well positioned inside the area well and defend the balls they put into the box. They may not have big names but collectively they work very well together.

Japan training Al Sadd SC New Training Facilities on November 30, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)
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Japan training Al Sadd SC New Training Facilities on November 30, 2022 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mohamed Farag/Getty Images)Mohamed FaragGetty

Would you have settled to reach the third game top of the group and on four points?

Of course! And even more so considering the group we landed in - for me, it’s the most difficult group. We feel positive, we are leaders and we depend on ourselves. We could not have wished to be in a better position.

Did the 1-1 draw against Germany leave you feeling disappointed?

Disappointed, not really, but... The coach is tremendously ambitious, that’s how he conveys it to us. We weren’t the superior side on the day, but I think that in terms of points, as he says, we were better. To come away with a point, especially after taking the lead, is a bittersweet taste. But I think we defended very well against very talented players - like Germany has in attack. Counter-attacking isn;t our strong point - we left gaps and maybe we could have killed the game off although we are not specialists in that. Luis Enrique has told us that we should have cooled it down. We will learn.

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For Spain, the keeper suffers playing out from the back. What do you think?

I can tell you that with both with my club, City, and the national team, it’s difficult to get the ball against any rival that plays man-to-man. The free man is the gatekeeper, but he can take risks up to a point. Perhaps we have to play more face-to-face, to a third man, to attack spaces... But there are not many teams that are going to propose what Germany does, which is very similar to us.

Do you have time to watch any World Cup games during your time off?

Yes. From the outside, you can see that the level of football is very high, which you would expect - but also that all the teams are having difficulties regardless of their opponent, even the bigger teams have had problems. I honestly think Spain’s game is different in that regard - I don’t see what we have in other teams. So I guess we are on the right track and let’s see if we secure our place in the next round.

Do you think no other team plays better than Spain?

There are teams with great individual qualities, there’s no denying that; maybe they take games forward based on those circumstances but on a collective level, I don’t see anyone like us. Perhaps the closest team is Germany, and as we saw that game was like a train crash. If we can compete against Germany, as we have shown we can, then we can do it against anyone.

Who are the players with these individual qualities you speak of?

We all already know. Players who make the difference, with goals. In Germany, in attack they have two or three players who are like that. We also have them in our way of playing, each team has its own weapons.

Some people are already calculating if when they will cross paths with Spain in the knockout stage. Are you doing the same?

We haven’t been doing that. We haven’t secured our place in the next round yet. When we do, go right ahead. There are enough difficulties in the World Cup to think beyond the next game.

Do you see more fair play at this World Cup?

Perhaps because it is more penalized. On the subject of yellow cards, with two you already lose a game, so players are taking more care about that. Things like that and like television limit you a lot. In the talk before the World Cup they told us that there would be 20 or 30 cameras at every game. They follow everything, nothing escapes them and so you have to be more measured going in with tackles.

Germany's Musiala (left) with Rodri on his tail.
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Germany's Musiala (left) with Rodri on his tail.JAVIER SORIANOAFP

Did the refs give you the talk? What was their message?

They told us the limits, the rules, doubts about the handball rule and penalties, what things are yellow card offenses or red cards... Nothing that we are not used to.

Spain have been struggling in the air, are they missing taller players?

It is true that we are a little shorter but we make up for it in other ways. There are teams that opt for more physical players and we opt for other types of talent. But we also have tall players: I consider myself tall, Laporte is tall, Busquets... Defensively we can be covered and we are one of the teams that generates the most set-pieces, and that could be decisive.

If you played with your friends, where would you play, centre-back or midfield?

I would let my friends play, because I already play enough. I would put myself as a centre-forward, because the pivot and centre-back positions are the hardest because you are up against the most skillful and fastest players. I would play higher up, it’s much better.

Spain played the first two games without a reference in attack with Morata scoring two goals coming off the bench in both games. Is that the right formula?

Álvaro is a great player, who brings us many things. When the coach chooses specific players, he has studied it well, but the reality is that for a tournament of this size, everyone is important and Morata was crucial against Germany with his goal. Besides, he was very good in other aspects. It is true that he has more body strength to hold the ball up, he is more of a pure striker. He will be crucial for us, for sure.

And Jordi Alba, what do you think of the tournament he’s having?

Jordi is a very attacking wing-back and made the diff erence in our first two two games, with great assists. He is at a great level and for me he is the best winger in the world in those attacking situations.

Where do you see Spain’s limit?

I see myself battling right until the end, competing and above all, taking the baton in the matches. But then in football, a thousand things can happen in a game - this is a World Cup. But we want our virtues to come to the fore and make them count.

Finally, do you like playing all in red?

To be honest with you, yes. When I watch it on TV afterwards, the kit looks cool. It’s the essence of Spain, so it’s nice.


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