Manchester City v Chelsea: Pep Guardiola 'not close' to finding long-term replacement for Fernandinho
Brazilian's vital role in Guardiola's system, plus his versatility, means identifying a worthy successor has not proved easy
It is a fixture that offers a vivid and at times painful illustration of the one who got away. For Chelsea, meetings with Manchester City offer an unwanted reminder that they only granted Kevin de Bruyne two league starts. City will not be left rueing a sale on Sunday, but they may lament a signing they were unable to complete.
City were confident they had secured Jorginho’s signature last summer until Chelsea appointed the midfielder’s mentor Maurizio Sarri and the Italy international opted for Stamford Bridge. Instead of becoming Fernandinho’s long-term replacement, he will be the Brazilian’s counterpart; unless, that is, Pep Guardiola uses the older man in defence again.
It indicates that Jorginho is not a duplicate of Fernandinho; arguably there is not one. The Italian is a pure technical player, whereas the Brazilian’s physicality forms part of his allure. Jorginho is a playmaker – he has played the most passes in the Premier League, three more than City’s Aymeric Laporte – whereas Fernandinho, who began the weekend sixth for passes and tied sixth for fouls, is part constructive, part destructive.
He turns 34 in May and feels City’s most irreplaceable player. Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones, Fabian Delph and De Bruyne have all anchored the midfield but none has Fernandinho’s combination of attributes.
In three successive transfer windows, City eyed potential alternatives. Their interest in Fred cooled – which, on the basis of his underwhelming Manchester United career, feels wise – before Jorginho chose Chelsea, and Frenkie de Jong agreed a summer move to Barcelona. Guardiola was an admirer, pumping his former Camp Nou teammate and roommate Ronald Koeman for information about a member of his Netherlands team. Instead, the hunt goes on.
“We spoke many times about that,” he said. “We are trying to help Fernandinho in that position. It is not easy to find the player and to buy the player so we will see.” But the search continues. “It is not close [to ending],” Guardiola accepted.
A complication is Fernandinho’s versatility. “If a team has three Fernandinhos, they would be champions,” Guardiola said in 2016. He used two Fernandinhos in last Sunday’s win over Arsenal: as a centre-back when the Gunners had the ball and stepping into midfield when City had possession.
“It is better to be always in the same position but when the player is open-minded, you speak to him and he says, ‘I can do it’, and he understands the situation, it is not a problem,” Guardiola said.
He believes Fernandinho’s skillset equips him for a defensive remit. “I think he can play in that position,” he added. “He is fast, he is strong in the air and when he sees the game in front of him, his vision for the pass inside or the switch of play is excellent. He is intelligent to go forward or go backwards, so he understands everything. Of course, he has to train more as it.”
If it is inconceivable Jorginho would be used as a centre-back – or a full-back, one of Fernandinho’s other positions – it offers a potential future for him if an alternative anchorman is recruited. In the short term, Guardiola is bracing himself for criticism if he benches an expensive defender to field Fernandinho at the back and City stumble.
“But I know what is going to happen if we are going to lose when Fernandinho plays in that position. [Critics would say]: ‘Why do you take a risk and leave £45 million on the bench when he can play in that position?’ and I know that. But he can play there because we analyse the skills and what we need. We need a guy who understands the build-up and that is why we use him.”
Updated: February 10, 2019 01:47 PM