For Pep Guardiola, what will be the biggest concern right now? His team has just moved back to second position in the Premier League, closing the gap with Chelsea to eight points. Manchester City are scheduled to take on the most prolific goal scorers in Europe’s top leagues – AS Monaco – on next Wednesday night. But before that, City have to take on the Championship side Huddersfield Town in a FA Cup match on Saturday. And amidst all of this, City’s biblically named forward – Gabriel Jesus has had a metatarsal fracture, ruling him out for quite some time.
In this high stakes game, where would Guardiola be focusing? For now, Huddersfield Town and the FA Cup will be least among his concerns. His first concern will be to get past Monaco in the Champions League, especially as doing that could lead to an easier draw in the next round, before City eventually run in to Real Madrid, Bayern Munich or PSG, given the results of this week’s Round of 16 matches. Then there is the Premier League – where the gap to the top is tough but still can be overcome. To overcome Monaco in the short term and the eight-point gap to the top of the Premier League in a couple of months’ time, Guardiola needs wins. A series of wins, such as the one with which he started his career at City, could get his team very close to the top and a decisive victory in one of the legs against Monaco could be his ticket into the next round of Champions League or possibly even further. Even a swift, decisive win against Huddersfield can ensure further progress in the FA Cup too.
To get those required victories, it is important to understand that who has been instrumental in the club’s wins so far in the season. While all the media hype earlier around the season surrounded City’s attack and Kevin de Bruyne in particular. Now, the media is focused on the form of Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane and before his injury, on Gabriel Jesus. Some even acknowledge the importance of David Silva. Then there is Fernandinho, a regular starter (19 starts in 25) who has missed five games in the League campaign due to his overzealous defending and City have lost 2 of those and drawn one of them. He has a better points per game record than his team (2.25 vs 2.08). As Squawka reminded us earlier this week, City wins 70% of the games that he plays in but only 40% of the games he does not feature in. You might want to look into the performances of Fernandinho in a bit more detail. This post is an attempt to do that.
If one judges Manchester City’s central midfielders – the primary role played by Fernandinho, we can see that he compares pretty well with the other two options that Pep has used in that position Yaya Toure and Fernando, although the latter has only made 5 starts. Fernandinho takes the most touches per 90 mins (89.1, compared to 88.6 for Toure and 75.9 for Fernando). His passing is second-best however, as he makes fewer passes than Toure (71.6 vs 73.2) and has a lower passing accuracy (86% vs 90%) than Toure. But where Fernandinho really shines is in the area of getting the ball back. He gets involved in 13 duels per 90, three more than Toure per 90 mins, with a 50% success rate. Fernando is actually better than Fernandinho in this metric 13.8 duels at a 58% success rate. But, perhaps a good passing game along with his penchant for being involved in getting the ball back is what makes Fernandinho a better option for Pep.
Also, he puts in a decent defensive effort as well.
His defending is centered around tackling and intercepting and perhaps his two outings in the full-back position has given these stats a boost but with him in the team, Man City concede only 0.9 goals per 90, while in case of Toure and Fernando these numbers are above 1.0. Fernandinho puts in 2.4 tackles every game with a 62% success rate, about one more than Toure. Again Fernando seems to have better stats (3.6 tackles with a 67% success rate) but seems that Pep will not choose him over Fernandinho or Toure due to their superior passing.
Another reason for Pep choosing Fernandinho over his compatriot could be that despite his higher tackling rate, Fernando is not able to recover the ball as many times as Fernandinho (4.8 vs 6.5, 5.9 for Toure). In Pep’s tactics, recovering the ball fairly quickly is one of the top priorities and when City can do that well, they tend to get good results.
Fernandinho is quite valuable due to his ability to enable attacking moves and eventually shots. He passes into the opponents’ penalty area the most out of the three being discussed here (2.9 vs 1.7 for Toure vs 0.5 for Fernando). He also enables more than one shots per 90 (1.1), – better than Toure (0.8) and Fernando (0.5).
In conclusion, I would say that what these stats describe to me are three different kinds of midfielders. Toure’s stats suggest that he is more suited to a deeper playmaking role, rather than engaging with the opponents. He can orchestrate moves but is not as inclined to be a part of the action at the attacking end now, as he once used to be. Fernando is completely opposite. He is more inclined to disrupt opponents’ attacks from developing but cannot really control the flow for City and seldom gets involved in the attacks. Fernandinho in the meanwhile, can do a bit of all of these. He can control the flow of the game with his passing, he is decent at disrupting opponents’ play and recovering the ball and he is really productive when his team is attacking. It is this box-to-box nature of his play that benefits City tremendously as it is almost as if they have half a player extra on both ends of the pitch. On the top of that, he is flexible in starting at full-back positions, which bring different responsibilities. This perhaps, is the reason for his presence being highly correlated with the team’s win ratio.
But that does not mean that he is flawless. He is one of those rare players who have got two straight reds in the league ( three in six games across all competitions), even before 2/3rds of the fixtures have been played. He has to control his emotions and his tackles for him to continue starting for City. Pep Guardiola will be hoping that Fernandinho will keep a check on those as his team really needs the wins in the upcoming matches to meet their pre-season expectations, and Fernandinho seems to be a key ingredient in City’s recipe for success.