It remains one of the hottest topics on Manchester City: The importance of Fernandinho to Pep Guardiola’s team, and his replacement as he winds down his successful career with the club. And it’s for a good reason.
When Sergio Aguero scores an amazing goal against Liverpool and Leroy Sane nets a superb winner to end the Reds’ unbeaten run in the Premier League, yet Fernandinho is named Man of the Match, it explains everything.
The Brazilian is pure gold, and a difference maker in the City team. He is arguably missed more than any other player when not available. But he can only play so many matches in a season.
The Catalan manager has built a well-oiled machine that is thrilling the supporters with scintillating football. Even neutrals enjoy the City show. It’s become so good that even when the team loses a game, the good football acts as a consolation. Fernandinho’s contribution is usually awesome. So much so that when he is not there, it is easily noticeable.
The surprising losses to Crystal Palace and Leicester in December are testament to that. The team missed his break up play. His tough tackling and incisive passing. His intelligent reading of the game and link up play between defence and attack. The 33-year-old also acts as an inspiration to his teammates. So can all these qualities be easily replaced?
But there are always others who can do the job he does in their own way. No two players are exactly the same. They are human beings with unique traits afterall. Just that there is none in the team at the moment that is equipped to do the defensive midfield job satisfactorily. Hence, the search for an heir from elsewhere.
Several names have been linked with the position at City. Tanguy Ndombele and Frenkie De Jong are the main ones. Their qualities have been extolled severally. Then there is Ruben Neves. The Portuguese is proving to be as good a candidate as anyone else for the job.
Neves has a unique advantage over the rest. He can hit the ground running as he is already used to English football. The 21-year-old has been a shining light in Wolves’ midfield since joining the side in the Championship. He has caught the eye with his silky passing, ability to break up play, and deadly finishing from distance as City’s title rivals Liverpool found out recently in the FA Cup.
One of Fernandinho’s biggest attributes is his ability to read the game, which allows him to step in and intercept attacks before the opposition have managed to build them. He has an outstanding record of 4.82 interceptions a game. Yet, Neves does better with 5.62 per 90 minutes.
City’s pressing style sees Fernandinho average 10.6 ball recoveries a game in the opposition half. Neves follows closely behind with 8.32 recoveries for Nuno Espirito Santo’s side.
But perhaps, the biggest advantage the Portuguese midfielder brings with him is his rare combination of youthfulness and experience. At such a young age, he has already made 18 Champions League appearances and played over 155 career games. He is a Portugal international as well and will have a unique understanding with national teammate, Bernardo Silva in the City midfield.
Clearly, he is yet to reach his peak. With over a decade of performing at the highest level still ahead of him, he has all the time in the world to understudy Fernandinho and perfectly replace him. That means by the time the Brazilian steps aside, he would not be missed.
Monday night’s Premier League fixture with Wolves would provide a good opportunity for the Cityzens to observe the player up close. His performance against a relentless City attack will tell a lot about his readiness for that big money move if or when it comes.