Brazilian midfielder spent eight years with Ukraine club as English champions visit Kharkiv in Uefa Champions League Group F on Tuesday
Fernandinho warns Manchester City Shakhtar Donetsk 'is a tough place to go and win'
If it promises to be a decisive double-header for Manchester City, for Fernandinho it is a reunion to relish, a homecoming of sorts.
The Brazilian spent eight seasons at Shakhtar Donetsk, winning six Ukrainian league titles. Now is charged with denting their chances of Uefa Champions League progress.
“The next two games against them are going to be decisive to see who goes through to the next stage,” said the midfielder.
City’s opening defeat to Lyon reshaped Group F, though victory over Hoffenheim took them above Shakhtar into second place.
Now on Tuesday, they revisit Kharkiv’s Metalist Stadium where they lost last year, albeit in a match that was a dead rubber for City.
“It is a tough place to go and win,” said Fernandinho. “They qualified for the last 16 as well and after they won the game against us.”
Pep Guardiola is a vocal admirer of Paulo Fonseca, Shakhtar’s Portuguese coach, and it says something that they eliminated Maurizio Sarri’s Napoli last year. “We have to be careful and try to play the same way we are playing now,” Fernandinho noted.
He will be pivotal. Guardiola branded him “extraordinary” after he scored in Saturday’s 5-0 win over Burnley.
There is a sense Fernandinho has become even more important after Jorginho, a member of that Napoli side, spurned City to join Sarri’s Chelsea instead. A player who turns 34 in May shoulders a heavy workload.
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Thankfully for City, Fernandinho has never felt fitter. He is not being called up by Brazil, leaving him unsure if his international career is over, but that allows City to benefit.
“I had a rest last week,” he explained. “I’ve been in Dubai for a week. When you are out of international duty you can forget just a little bit about football, spend more time with your family and clean your mind and your body. I think it helps a lot.”
Yet if Fernandinho has not seen his compatriots on international duty, he will encounter plenty tonight. He was among eight Brazilians in the Shakhtar side and if some, like Douglas Costa and Willian, have moved on, Taison is a constant.
“Most of the people who still work in the club are there,” said Fernandinho. “I know a lot and I like them so much and have a lot of respect for them.”
Shakhtar have nine Brazilians now. Their recruitment policy has been a constant. “It’s almost cultural there,” said Fernandinho, who joined age 20 in 2005. “It’s nice because they open the door from Europe for those players and after that they have the chance to change their teams.
"It’s nice - the connection between the Ukrainian people and Brazilians. The former manager [Mircea Lucescu] bought a lot of players. They had a very good team they won a lot of titles. They did a very good job especially in the European competitions.”
Now his, and City’s task, is to look for back-to-back wins against Shakhtar, which would hasten their exit from Europe’s premier club competition.