When people first think of the most important player in a Guardiola team, you end up hearing a variety of different answers. Some may say the Goalkeeper – someone who is expected to play as an extra outfield player, playing intricate passes & playing on the edge of his box at all costs. Some say the fullbacks – capable of working up & down the field, as well as coming inside to play as central midfielders when needed. Some would even say the central striker – whether they play as a focal point who can seemingly score with every touch, or a false nine, dropping deep & allowing the players around him to carry the goal scoring threat on their shoulders.
Of all the answers you may hear, most people will often overlook the role of the holding midfielder. The job of this player is often not understood – do they just defend? Are they good on the ball? The answer is they need to do everything and also do it to an exceptionally high standard. As mesmerising Lionel Messi was in the famous Barcelona team, it was often Sergio Busquets who was hailed as the most important part of the team. Often the first name on the team sheet, Busquets’ reputation has only increased with time. Similarly, you could apply this description to Manchester City’s midfield maestro, Fernandinho.
When Fernandinho first stepped foot in Manchester in the summer of 2013, many people questioned what Manchester City were doing, paying £30 million for a 28-year-old playing in Ukraine. Often utilised by Manuel Pellegrini in a midfield 2 with Yaya Toure, Fernandinho quickly started to show why he would go on to be a key component in that City team. Whilst Toure would be the driving force behind the blistering attacks, Fernandinho was the man to offer the defensive structure. Both men complimented each other well, with Toure scoring 20 Premier League goals in the 13-14 campaign, only the second midfielder to do so behind Frank Lampard.
As the years have passed, a managerial change has been seen, respected players have moved on to different pastures whilst new faces have come in and threatened to displace members of the squad. But despite all the upheaval, Fernandinho remains the constant, making 256 appearances in all competitions for City. It is perhaps no wonder that Pep Guardiola has often hailed his midfield lynchpin as “extraordinary”. The 33-year-old has been thrown into a variety of different roles and positions during Guardiola’s tenure, including fullback.
Despite his advanced years, Fernandinho looks as vital as ever in this City squad. If it wasn’t obvious before to outsiders, during his recent absence through injury, performances seemed to look laboured and uninspiring. This particular point is highlighted by the fact that of the 14 league outings for which Fernandinho has been absent, City have won nine – a success rate of 64.3%. In 81 matches with him, City have recorded 60 victories – a win rate of 74.1%. As well as dropping points more often, City also concede in excess of 50% more goals when Fernandinho is absent from the team.
Players who have been asked to fill in, such as Ilkay Gundogan or John Stones, seem to lack the capability to do everything that is asked of them as well as he does. Whether that’s the mobility to get around the pitch, making tackles, interceptions & defensive headers as well as making the sort of passes that start the devastating attacks that City are renowned for.
However, Fernandinho can’t go on forever, highlighted by his recent injury and a packed schedule both last season and in Russia for his native Brazil. He was back to his sparkling best in the middle of the park against title rivals Liverpool, putting in the kind of performance that resulted in Graeme Souness calling him “the best midfielder in England”. When you look at the statistics from WhoScored, it’s hard to disagree. During the Liverpool match, Fernandinho made nine recoveries, three clearances and one interception, as well as winning four tackles. His attacking output also impressed, with 54 passes attempted, 34 of these being the opposition half.
City have repeatedly looked at signing someone to relieve the reliance placed on him, however, the players identified to fulfil this role seem to be in a different mould to the man they would be replacing. They are often more technical and less physical, such as Frenkie De Jong or Jorginho. It is almost impossible to tell whether these players would be able to learn the defensive abilities required to thrive in a Guardiola system. But one thing is for certain, that when Fernandinho does vacate Manchester, he will be fondly remembered by fans as the vital ever-present in one of the most successful periods in Manchester City’s history.
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