As we prepare for arguably the biggest game of the season, Man City midfielder Fernandinho has left the champions with much to ponder, with his recent absence highlighting his importance to the Premier League champions.
Mind games and relentless build-up aside, regardless of what happens between Manchester City and Liverpool’s clash at the Etihad tonight, the title race will be far from over. Yes, City will need to win to recover ground and deal a psychological blow to their opponents, but when all said and done, they have the capacity to rebuild another excellent run of form that could well tip the balance in their favour.
They have quality and, crucially, the experience in their ranks to keep Liverpool on their toes. Perhaps one player who encapsulates their football know how above all others is Fernandinho. City’s attacking flair and wealth of star names means that a man as vital as Fernandinho is often overlooked in the annals. However, you only need to look at City’s recent blip in form to see the vital role the Brazilian plays in their all-conquering style of football.
The role of a number of six is not the most rock and roll. It’s only been in recent years, when N’Golo Kante captured the hearts of the nation with his man of steel antics for Leicester City and Chelsea has it become so noteworthy. Before him though, a defensive midfield was more seen as a tough tackling, enforcing role on the pitch.
Like with so many other things in recent football history, Pep Guardiola’s methods have revolutionised the defensive midfield position and what is required from it. With Pep, there is no room for a player who is not immensely competent with the ball at his feet. Fernandinho’s role as a shield in front of the back four is as much about his capacity as a ballplayer, as his ability to break up attacks and make crucial tackles.
His presence in the midfield is vital to keeping Man City ticking over. Their suffocating, fluid and relentless passing style is as much about balance in the side as it is the wonderfully gifted individuals who operate in it. Fernandinho’s stats will never be up there with his more attack-minded colleagues, but he does average just shy of 65 passes per game, nothing to be sniffed at. For comparison, Fabian Delph, considered to be the Brazilian’s deputy, averages 48 passes per game in a similar role.
As City returned to winning ways last weekend with a textbook Guardiola win, this time at Southampton, it was clear that they were much more assured with Fernandinho restored to the starting XI. They zipped the ball mercilessly around Southampton, barely giving them a touch for over 20 minutes of second-half dominance as they strangled the game and eased to victory. The Brazilian is tuned in to this level and style and his team looks far more intimidating with him in midfield.
City will be relieved to have such a huge player back in time for the biggest game of their season so far. The 33-year-old has invaluable experience and is a reassuring presence in the City line-up.
However, their recent dip in form coincided with the Brazil International missing four games with a thigh issue. This should be a cause for concern for City. They tried with Stones and Delph, to plug the gap, but neither man was able to duplicate the class of Fernandinho.
Against Palace and Leicester, goals were shipped by men not being picked up from midfield. They were costly errors which loosened City’s grip on pole position in the title race and showed a stark lack of viable options in that position for the Champions.
It’s a caveat and an interesting sub-plot to City’s dreams of dominance. They’ve got some ageing players in key positions who will need replacing. They have the money, that’s not an issue, but it is something worth thinking about in the near future. You may well be able to win things with kids, but it remains to be seen whether City can achieve all of their ambitions with an ageing number six and no adequate replacement on the horizon.