Manchester City vs West Ham United: The Key Midfield Battle
MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 24: Rodri of Manchester City during the UEFA Champions League group A match between Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain at Etihad Stadium on November 24, 2021 in Manchester, England. (Photo by James Gill - Danehouse/Getty Images)

Manchester City return to Premier League action on Sunday afternoon, as they welcome high flying West Ham United to the Etihad Stadium.

The hosts will enter the game as overwhelming favourites, but having ended Manchester City's five-year love affair with the Carabao Cup last month, West Ham will be hopeful of upsetting the odds once more.

All eyes will be on the centre of the park, where two of the divisions inform midfielders come head-to-head. We breakdown the impact of both in the Premier League so far this season.

Rodri Resurgence

We may only be three months into the Premier League season, but Manchester City's Spanish holding midfield is already staking his claim for the clubs Player of the Year award.

It has been some turnaround for the Spaniard, who has drawn his critics since his £62.8m move to the Etihad Stadium, a club record fee for the club at the time of his move.

A similar ilk to the likes of Sergio Busquets and Javi Martinez, both of which were deployed in the holding midfield role by Pep Guardiola during his stints at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, the 6'2" midfield is a polar opposite to his Manchester City predecessor Fernandinho.

Rodri's lack of consistency was perhaps highlighted by Pep Guardiola's controversial team selection in last season UEFA Champions League final defeat to Chelsea, whereby Rodri found himself on the bench as Guardiola opted for a formation devoid of a holding midfielder.

But it's safe to say that should UCL favourites Manchester City live up to their expectations and reach the showpiece event once again this season, Rodri is assured to be one of the first names on the teamsheet.

Rodri's statistics for the current season make for pleasant reading for Manchester City fans. The holding midfielder is averaging 85.5 passes per game in the Premier League - a number bettered only by Joao Cancelo - some five passes more than in the previous campaign.

His defensive game has become much more assured this season too, with a 68% tackle success rate, the Spaniard is up over 12% on his numbers from last season, with Rodri also averaging more blocks per game and more headed clearances per game than in 2020/21.

Rice, Rice, Baby!

It won't be plain sailing for Manchester City on Sunday though, with any West Ham success likely to come through an inform holding midfielder of their own.

Although it almost seems unfair to label Declan Rice as a holding midfielder, as the Englishman has developed his game significantly in the last 12 months to a point where he could feasibly be deployed in just about any position across the centre of the park.

Rice has four goal contributions in 12 matches across the Premier League so far this campaign, pitching in with a goal and three assists.

The West Ham favourite is setting the benchmark for his team in the middle of the park, leading the team totals in passes completed (701), tackles (31) and interceptions (22).

More impressively perhaps, is the fact that these numbers are coming on the back of an extended 2020/21 campaign which saw Rice feature in 35 matches in all competition for the Hammers, before playing a starring role for England in their run to the Euro 2020 finals.

It is such form that has seen Rice linked with a move to a host of Premier League clubs - including Chelsea and Manchester United. 

Pep Guardiola is also a known admirer of the 22-year-old, with Rice touted by many as a long term successor for Fernandinho, who is expected to retire at the end of the season.

There will be no contracts signed tomorrow, but there is no doubt that Guardiola and co will be keeping a close eye on the movements of Rice, no only in a bid to secure three points, but potentially in a bid to secure the Englishman's signature.