Man City's midfield is broken! Premier League champions' over-reliance on Rodri could see them miss out on fourth successive title

"If you ask me today, my feeling is that we're going to win the Premier League," Pep Guardiola told reporters before Manchester City's trip to Aston Villa. "If we play at the levels that we showed against Liverpool and Tottenham, we're going to do it again."

Guardiola has always been a confident character, but it was a surprise to hear him make such a bold early prediction. In previous campaigns, the City boss did his utmost to play down title talk until the trophy was mathematically secured, in a bid to make sure his players did not take their eye off the ball.

That approach has helped City finish top of the pile in four of the last five seasons as Guardiola's side have emerged as the dominant force in English football. But something seems to be off this time around, with the glorious scenes that followed their Champions League final win over Inter on June 10 now a distant memory.

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City have taken a big step back since clinching the treble on that fateful night in Istanbul. Villa picked up a 1-0 victory against the champions on Wednesday night, which left the Citizens six points behind leaders Arsenal - but it was the manner of the defeat that was most alarming.

Usually when City lose, it's after being stung on the counter, with the opposition spending most of the game sitting back in numbers to try to deal with constant attacking waves. But Villa were superior in every department and should have won by a far greater margin.

Unai Emery's team had 22 shots at goal compared to City's two - which both came in the 11th minute - and the visitors didn't even manage to win a single corner. Leon Bailey's deflected effort in the 74th minute was the only difference between the two sides on paper, but City couldn't match Villa's creativity or energy.

The West Midlands outfit played without fear and took the game to City, which was probably the plan from the moment they knew that Rodri was not going to be involved. The Spain international was suspended after picking up his fifth yellow card of the season in City's 3-3 draw with Spurs, and once again, they were way below their best in his absence.

The fact is, City have become far too reliant on Rodri this season. And if Guardiola doesn't fix his broken midfield soon, a record-breaking fourth successive title will soon fade into the distance.