Man City hold on after Rodri sent off for raising hands to Morgan Gibbs-White’s throat

Rodri briefly raises his hands to Morgan Gibbs-White's throat
Rodri briefly raises his hands to Morgan Gibbs-White's throat - Shutterstock/Phil Oldham

This was football as 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 the orchestra to strike up. 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.

Which made Rodri’s dismissal all the more extraordinary, coming in such innocuous circumstances. Yet it did at least make for an interesting afternoon.

Pep Guardiola: Rodri will learn – I am angry with him
Pep Guardiola: Rodri will learn – I am angry with him

The game had barely restarted when Rodri went head-to-head with Morgan Gibbs-White over some slight or other and briefly raised his hands to the Forest man’s throat. It took Gibbs-White a moment to realise he had an opportunity and then to launch himself to the ground. Not quite red a card offence but worse than a booking. The Var Michael Salisbury saw no grounds for Anthony Taylor making a clear and obvious error.

What followed was a football match. Forest were permitted to have the ball at last, and so did City for periods. Ederson was ordered to bypass the Forest press by launching his goal-kicks at Haaland who was pushed almost to the edge of the penalty area. Steve Cooper switched from a five-man defence to bring on Antony Elanga and Callum Hudson-Odoi. The home crowd at last made some noise. It was almost as if Guardiola had planned it all, just to see how his team might react.

Rodri walks after his moment of madness
Rodri walks after his moment of madness - PA/Martin Rickett
Phil Foden celebrates scoring Manchester City's first goal
Phil Foden celebrates scoring Manchester City's first goal - Offside/Charlotte Wilson

The outcome was no different and City duly clocked up their sixth win from six. Haaland missed a glorious second half chance created by substitute Nathan Ake. Taiwo Awoniyi went head-to-head with Ederson after the latter had protested at his diving. Even with five key players injured, including Jack Grealish, who came on as late substitute, City had looked very comfortable with 11 men. Even Guardiola, for all his indignation at the referee’s decisions, seemed to enjoy it more.

Forest had barely had a sniff of the ball when City strung together a mere 46 passes without interruption, probing the left and the right and then eventually switching from left to right one last time where Walker had rushed into the inside right position. His knockdown away from goal to Foden was taken first time on his left. Looked easy – but most certainly was not.

Another came seven minutes later when Forest’s five man back line somehow managed to lose Haaland, who was not easily missed in a central position in the Forest box. No doubt they were still trying to follow the movement of the ball – and those fleet footed runs off it – from Julian Alvarez, Foden and then Matheus Nunes. A cross from the latter and in thundered Haaland for a header from close range.

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