The new era under Manuel Pellegrini at Manchester City got off to a frightening start for the rest of the Premier League to digest on Monday evening, as the Citizens began the new season with a dominant 4-0 win against Newcastle United at the Etihad Stadium.
Pellegrini’s predecessor, Roberto Mancini will always be loved by the supporters for delivering three trophies during his stint in the dugout but his Chilean replacement is arriving with a big reputation after impressing with the likes of Villarreal, Real Madrid and Malaga in La Liga and a wealth of talent has followed him to Eastlands this summer in order to ensure his high standing in the world of football continues to flourish and more trophies can soon be won at the club under his stewardship.
It’s fair to say that one of his new signings, Fernandinho, raised a few eyebrows due to the £30m outlay it took to release him from Ukrainian giants, Shakhtar Donetsk but the Brazilian midfielder produced a superb performance against the Magpies that showed he could indeed be worth every penny of that substantial transfer fee.
Position and Structure
Manchester City lined up with a very open and attacking 4-4-2 system, which saw Fernandinho and Yaya Touré anchor the midfield with their fantastic combination of strength and pace, allowing the likes of Jesús Navas and David Silva to drift into space from the flanks whilst Pablo Zabaleta and Gaël Clichy flew up and down both wings on the proverbial overlap.
In order to combat the numbers Pellegrini wanted to push forward, Newcastle manager Alan Pardew set up with a counter-attacking 4-3-3 formation, hoping to catch City on the break whilst they had a lot of men forward with Moussa Sissoko, Cheick Tioté and Jonás Gutiérrez remaining extremely deep into their own half to block the space Navas and Silva had to run into.
This however gave the powerhouse Touré and the exuberant Fernandinho an abundance of space to pick passes off from the middle and burst forward with acceleration and with no midfielders able to break forward for Newcastle or close those men down quickly enough, this meant Papiss Cissé and Yoan Gouffran were hugely isolated all night and much depended on Hatem Ben Arfa conjuring up a bit of magic if they were going to pose a major threat to City’s big guns.
The Toon were thrust into the situation of playing right-footed centre-back, Mapou Yanga-Mbiwa at left-back due to injuries and this gave them a big problem against the pace of Navas coming towards the Frenchman whilst Zabaleta endlessly kept on running in behind him, causing all sorts of problems for the Newcastle backline.
City categorically bossed the possession all match but in the first half, they picked Newcastle off gently until Steven Taylor was given a straight red card for striking Sergio Agüero on the back of the head and as the second half image shows, the pressure soon became relentless for Newcastle to cope with and Pellegrini’s side simply got stronger and more involved in their half as time ticked on.
Fernandinho brought a cool head into the midfield and he looks as though he will fit like a glove into English football. He has the right pace required for the Premier League and is equally brilliant at winning the ball without lunging into tackles and finds his man more often than not with a pass. It will most certainly be money well spent by the club’s owners if he can add consistency in his game to that list of already quality attributes in his make up.
Fernandinho’s ability to nick the ball away efficiently and spring forward with speed was particularly evident and as the image on the right points out, Newcastle were allowed barely any room to move into and City won battles in just about every area of the pitch.
The 28-year-old completed four successful challenges out of eight attempted, made one clearance and also recovered the ball four times. Manchester City successfully won 29/40 tackles with 12 of those coming in their visitors half, therefore highlighting how the number of bodies City pushed forward paid dividends with four goals coming because of that pressure on the opposition.
In last season’s UEFA Champions League, Fernandinho helped Shakhtar reach the last-16 stage and made an average of 3.3 successful tackles and 3.5 interceptions a game, thus he is bringing more than just energy to Pellegrini’s tactical thinking and starting him alongside Touré allows the Ivory Coast international to attack more frequently, which has unlimited benefits for the team.
Bearing in mind the amount of space Fernandinho and Touré were gifted by Newcastle in the middle of the pitch, this is exactly where they both shone all game as City finished with 63% possession overall and successfully completed 603 passes out 668 attempted.
Fernandinho’s composure brought 76/83 successful passes, finishing his Premier League debut off with a 92% completion rate and one chance created from open play. He received the ball from his team-mates on 78 occasions and impressed those watching with his forward thinking mentality, as he was just behind David Silva (24/29) for the most passes in the final third of the pitch with 19/24 successful plays.
He completed 53/54 passes in the middle third where himself and Touré took the game by the scruff of the neck, moving the ball forwards 38 times, 22 times backwards and Fernandinho also had an overall square pass completion rate of 100% (16/16).
He is calmness personified by keeping things incredibly simple and it’s rare to see him panic in a competitive game. 71/77 short passes were successful, whilst he managed to find City’s most attacking threats, Touré (17), Silva (15) and Navas (9), with an apparent ease.
Javi Garcia and Jack Rodwell will provide much-needed competition in that department for City, but it will take some doing to budge the fearsome partnership of Fernandinho and Touré, which looks so comfortable to watch prosper as a supporter and most surely for Pellegrini and his staff.
Although Arsenal’s bid for star-man Yohan Cabaye on the day of the game had rocked Newcastle’s preparations, Manchester City were always deemed favourites from the start for the coveted three points, with Newcastle making 13/19 successful tackles, 19 interceptions and eight fouls to sum up their testing experience.
Fernandinho’s 12 yellow cards and one red card in all competitions for Shakhtar last season is a minor concern to consider and he committed two fouls against Newcastle, receiving the first yellow card of his City career on 32 minutes although nothing could overshadow such a promising performance from the number 25.
Manchester City were expected to entertain in front of the cameras and they unequivocally delivered. They completely controlled the match from the get-go and their 55.2% involvement and 114/151 successful passes in Newcastle’s territory was pivotal in deciding a comfortable first win for Pellegrini in the English top-flight.
It was a good showing from most of the City players on the day, but the fruitful pairing of Fernandinho and Touré will definitely be one to watch over the course of the season as both look to become the stalwart midfielders in City’s bid to clinch esteemed success under their new leader.
Stat images from FourFourTwo’s stat zone app powered by Opta
Fernandinho’s UEFA Champions League stats via WhoScored.