In this corner, standing in (just barely) at 87 consecutive Prem matches played despite innumerable uncalled fouls against him, we have Bukayo Saka. In this corner, standing in despite innumerable uncalled fouls to his credit, we have Rodri, who somehow, finally, found a way to get sent off. Only one man can emerge from this fray. Only one club can find a way forward. While it’s possible that Saka might play a role on Sunday, Rodri is ruled out. Apparently, he’s suffered under the delusion that he can get away with anything. Why he’s suffered that delusion is anyone’s guess.
For as much as we’ve ridden our beloved Starboy (into the ground), it’s remarkable to notice the degree to which a sqaud as deep and as rich and as honestly financed as Man City’s depends on just one player. Yes, Man City have missed De Bruyne, but, for as much as I hate to admit it, he’s been a waning force. It’s not for nothing that Pep’s minions lost two Prem matches after Rodri’s suspension. Losing at St. James’s to Newcastle is one thing. That’s understandable (ask PSG). Losing at Molineux? Conceding two goals to a Wolves side that had scored a grand total of six goals in six previous matches? That’s unheard of. Man City did bounce back in the Champions League, due in no small part to Rodri’s return to the squad.
His enforced absense from Sunday’s clash presents us with a potentially cataclysmic opening. Even if Man City could be forced to play the entire season without both De Bruyne and Rodri, they’d still be the odds-on favourites to win the Prem. In the short term, however, their absences create just enough of an opening to inspire hope. We need Saka—and he may even be available by Sunday. With or without him, it feels like we have to win. We’re at home to our chief rivals, they’re depleted…if such a squad was ever ripe for the taking, it’s now.
Rodri has been a thorn in our side for quite some time. It’s therefore more than a bit gratifying to finally see him sent off—and to see him sent off in a way that might actually help us gilds the gratification all the more. By the same token, we have to grab the golden chance that the Fates (in the corporeal form we’d recognise as Anthony Taylor, he who showed Rodri the straigh red) have granted us.
I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that I am hoping and praying and genuflecting and groveling to whatever powers that be to assist us in winning this match. Win, and we’re at least adjusting the driver’s seat, checking the mirrors, and shifting the gears. Draw, well, who knows what that means after eight fixtures? Lose—in these circumstances?—that might just mean that it’s time to size up our chances at finishing second ahead of Tottenham and Liverpool.
In the immortal words of Kenny Rogers, you gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em; know when to walk away, and know when to run. We’re still sittin’ at the table, so it’s too early to count our points or our money or anything else. The dealin’s not quite done, but Sunday’s hand could still count for quite a lot. Man City’ll be playing without a few aces, and we may be too. We’ll have to wait and see where the dust settles…