Welcome to World Class: Fernandinho

Matt O'Connor-Simpson
Dec 22, 2020, 10:00 AM GMT
Manchester City are not the same without him.
Manchester City are not the same without him. | Matt Burt/90min
facebooktwitterreddit

Defensive midfielders come in many forms.

There's the deep lying playmaker, who uses vision and intelligence to control things from between the lines. There's the ball winner, who relies on physicality and tackling ability to break up the play, and there's the anchor man, who reads the game and racks up interceptions for fun.

What's so special about Fernandinho is that all three of these descriptions fit him perfectly. Even now, at the ripe old age of 35, he still manages to combine these contrasting roles without breaking sweat.

Fernandinho's ability to multitask was never more evident than during the 2017/2018 season. This was one of the best league campaigns in modern footballing history, with Manchester City registering 100 points and losing twice all term.

Fernandinho helped City rack up an incredible 100 Premier League points
Fernandinho helped City rack up an incredible 100 Premier League points | Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

Throughout the season, Fernandinho played behind both Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva in a 4-3-3. On paper, the ultra-attacking set up should not have functioned. However, Fernandinho made sure it did by performing the defensive work of his midfield partners so they could focus on running riot.

His ability to screen the back four allowed De Bruyne and Silva to play high and most importantly wide, helping City create the devastating overloads that led to the majority of their 106 Premier League goals.

Sweeping the entire width of the pitch, Fernandinho did not only rely on his impressive physicality but also his ability to see the game several frames ahead of his opponents. Many times the opposition were given a faint hope of hitting the champions on the counter, only to see their route to goal guarded by the all-seeing Brazilian. This saw him rack up a combined 94 tackles and interceptions over the course of the campaign.

If he could not stop the opposition by legal means, Fernandinho would resort the much-maligned 'tactical foul'. Characterised as pure, unadulterated evil by sections of the English media, this generally involved him assessing the threat of his opponents attack and bringing it to an abrupt end if he felt City could not handle it.

The intelligence to use this tactic smartly and on a regular basis while only pick up seven yellow cards all season should not be underestimated. It speaks to Fernandinho's incredible knowledge of his side's system, as well as his speed of thought.

He was keen to defend himself from accusations of being Guardiola's tactical fouler in chief during an interview with the Telegraph in 2018.

"I am a nice guy. Look, I have heard what has been said. But most of the time, I recover the ball without making a foul. I smile because I am a happy guy."

Fernandinho
He has been labelled the 'smiling assassin'
He has been labelled the 'smiling assassin' | PAUL ELLIS/Getty Images

Despite his penchant for the dark arts, characterising Fernandinho as solely excelling in the defensive side of the game would do him a disservice. He is also extremely competent in possession, always offering his teammates an incredibly safe passing outlet when they are in a tough spot. Over the 2017/2018 season, he received no less than 2497 passes, miscontrolling just 17.

He did not always keep things safe either. Of his 2614 completed passes, 277 were longer than 30 yards, many of which were big switches which put the opposition under significant pressure. By the time the season was over and the title was won, Guardiola was keen to stress just how important Fernandinho had been - as the midfielder revealed to the club's website.

"Pep said I would keep him out of the team because he was asked if he would play in the Manchester City team of 2017-18. From his view, I'm better than he was when he played. "

Fernandinho

While the 2017/2018 campaign represented him at his peak, there has plenty of evidence of his world class ability since.

The following campaign witnessed much of the same from Fernandinho. He helped his side retain their Premier League title playing a near identical role. When he was absent, City missed him - badly.

When he was ruled out in December with a thigh problem, the Citizens lost back-to-back games against Crystal Palace and Leicester, with their inability to plug the holes left by their advancing midfielders proving a key problem.

Fernandinho has won a host of domestic honours since joining City
Fernandinho has won a host of domestic honours since joining City | Sebastian Frej/MB Media/Getty Images

These defeats sparked frenzied concern among the City fanbase over how they would replace Fernandinho. This is a question that continues to hang over the club to this day.

Last season, Fernandinho was required to fill in at centre-back for all but three of his 30 Premier League appearances. While he performed well, proving to be Guardiola's most reliable defender by some distance, his presence in defensive midifield was badly missed.

His replacement Rodri, may be confident in possession but he lacks the mobility and awareness to stack up to his predecessors in a defensive sense.

Rodri did not make our top five...
Rodri did not make our top five... | Octavio Passos/Getty Images

While his absence was not the only reason for City accruing 17 less points last season, it played a massive role. The fact that Guardiola remains so reliant on a 35-year-old to this day speaks volumes of Fernandinho's remarkable versatility and world class talent.

Without him holding things together defensively and in possession, there is not a chance City would have secured back to back Premier League titles in such memorable fashion.

facebooktwitterreddit