Man City are in crisis.
Well, not really.
But consecutive defeats in the league have seen them slip to third in the table, six points behind leaders Liverpool.
Having swaggered to 13 wins from their first 15 league games, their title defence is under serious threat.
And for all their firepower, creativity and pace, it has become starkly apparent Fernandinho is City’s most important player.
The Brazilian featured in City’s 3-1 at home to Everton on the 15th of December but has missed the last three games with a thigh injury.
In that time, City have drawn 1-1 with Leicester in the Carabao Cup (progressing via a penalty shootout), lost to the Foxes in the league, and succumbed to Crystal Palace at the Etihad.
These results continue a long-running trend.
City have won 71.3% of their games when Fernandinho has played since Guardiola’s appointment, compared to 59.3% without him.
They average more goals per game with Fernandinho and fewer goals conceded too.
John Stones and Ilkay Gundogan have both occupied the role at the base of City’s three-man midfield this month.
The former, being a centre-back by trade, is naturally a good tackler and interceptor, while the latter is an excellent metronome.
However, neither are as combative as Fernandinho.
More importantly, neither are even half as familiar with the game’s dark arts.
Despite what Guardiola has claimed, it is clear he wants his midfielders to make tactical fouls to snuff out counterattacks.
Amazon’s All or Nothing documentary featured a brief scene of Mikel Arteta giving the players such advice…
A lot of people get quite annoyed about tactical fouls but it’s a perfectly good way of eliminating potential danger.
It is not ‘cheating’ as some like to claim, because players who commit such fouls are not trying to deceive the referee, they want to be penalised.
And if that means a yellow card then so be it.
Fernandinho recognises when an attack needs to be halted and more often than not he gets the job done — by hook or crook.
It sounds elementary, but Stones and Gundogan are too nice to play the role of resident s**thouse.
“Gundogan played good,” Guardiola said after losing to Leicester. “He was good with the ball.
“We don’t have a player like Fernandinho in this position. We have to think about it and solve it.”
Fernandinho’s absence is not the sole reason for City’s comparative struggles in recent weeks.
Kyle Walker’s form has fallen off a cliff, Sergio Aguero has looked rusty since returning from injury, David Silva has been sidelined, and Fabian Delph has been something of a weak link at left-back.
However, while the likes of Bernardo Silva and Gabriel Jesus provide more than adequate cover, Fernandinho has proved to be irreplaceable.
The 33-year-old is not expected to be sidelined for much longer, but this issue will re-emerge permanently when time finally catches up to the Brazilian.
Frenkie de Jong, Tanguy Ndombele and Ruben Neves have all been linked with City as potential heirs to Fernandinho’s throne.
Fernandinho’s contribution to City’s most successful period in their history should not be overlooked or underestimated.
He deserves to be mentioned alongside Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure, David Silva and Sergio Aguero in discussions of modern club legends.
He may well be the most difficult to replace of the lot.
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