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Which player would be the best replacement for Fernandinho at Manchester City?

Giulio Prifti
ANALYST
Feature
Timeless

Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League
Manchester City v Arsenal FC - Premier League

Fernandinho started his career at Club Athletico Paranaense, a club in the first Brazilian division who also exported the likes of Alex Sandro and Neto. Leaving his club aged 20, Ferna joined Shakhtar Donetsk who have a rich history of developing Brazilian players. In his 281 official games for the Ukrainian team, he scored 52 goals and 49 assists, while playing mostly in the central midfielder position. His role was to be a versatile box-to-box midfielder who not only helped the team defensively but also started many attacks and sometimes even was at the end of them.

After 8 years in Ukraine, where Fernandinho won the league incredible 7 times, he earned himself a big move. Not to Italy, where he was linked with Juventus and AC Milan, but rather to Manchester City in the English Premier League. He was the most expensive signing of City in the summer of the season 13/14, which were still managed by Manuel Pellegrini at this stage.

Playing the majority of the games in these 3 seasons under the Chilean coach, he was moved further back into defensive midfield, where he played around half of his minutes for the club. Playing beside Yaya Toure and behind David Silva earned him some well-deserved attention. Especially when you consider, that he has been the one of this trio who rather stayed back, but still managed to score 15 goals and assist further 14 in those 3 years.

In July 2016 Pep Guardiola arrived, a manager who is seen by some as the best tactician in the world. Under him, the Brazilian turned into an undisputed starter, who began playing as a lone defensive midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation, rather than being paired up with another player in a 4-2-3-1. In this holding midfielder role he flourished. Not only being praised by his coach but also getting recognition from the press.

Doing the dirty work behind the duo of Kevin De Bruyne and again David Silva maybe lowered his appearances on the scoresheet (he still managed to get 9 goals and 10 assists in 127 games), but definitely gave him the recognition he deserves, mainly after Manchester City's astonishing title win 2018.


Why is he so important for Manchester City?

Being a holding midfielder for Pep does not mean that you are a pure tackler. You are the anchor of the team, playing an insane amount of passes, opening up the play while still being able to intercept the opponent attacks und filling the gaps of offensive teammates.

The role is providing the fluidity between defense and offense, while still being very important for the teams defending performance. Sergio Busquets and Xabi Alonso are both prime examples for the Guardiola style of a number 6.

Manchester City v Southampton FC - Premier League
Manchester City v Southampton FC - Premier League

Fernandinho's main strengths are his passing ability and his defensive awareness. He averages 75.3 passes per game, in the 18/19 season, with an accuracy of 88%. The only premier league midfielders who are better than him in this part of the game are Jorginho and Xhaka. He is also only disposed 0.5 times per game, which is amazing for a midfielder playing as deep as Fernandinho does. Combine this with 2.1 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 2.7 clearances per occasion and you get a perfect Guardiola midfielder.

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When the Brazilian misses out a game due to injury (which happens more and more often due to his age) or due to being suspended, either John Stones, Ilkay Gündogan or Fabian Delph replaced him.

While all are quality players, Stones lacks in the offensive part of the game to play this role, whereas Gündogan lacks in his defensive ability and awareness. Fabian Delph might has the same player profile, but simply is not on Fernandinho's level. Without Ferna the Skyblues concede double the amount of goals (1.5 instead of 0.76 per game) and make 0.6 less points per game (1.83 instead of 2.42).


Who could replace Fernandinho?

Manchester City does not have a suitable successor to the midfielder in the squad. The 33 years old will not be able to play every game for City on the intensity that he is doing now. Therefore, the club should be looking around on the transfer market. Saul Niguez, Rodri and Declan Rice all have been linked with a move to the Etihad. Before stating an opinion who City should by I compare each player statistics to Fernandinho's and point out why they are suitable or not.

Saul Niguez is the most experienced player of the 3 by means of he already played 184 times in LaLiga and 62 times in Europa League / Champions League. By looking at his defensive contribution, he puts up similar numbers to Fernandinho: With 2.6 tackles, 1.5 interceptions and 2.2 clearances per game, there is not a huge gap between their defensive abilities.

The problem arrives when you look at Saul's offensive contribution. Being dispossessed more than twice as much as Fernandinho and only making 44 passes a game (with 76.6% accuracy), is not Fernandinho level. Niguez may play further up the pitch but still does not seem as secure on the ball as his Brazilian counterpart is. Manchester City should, according to CIES, be ready to pay around 90 million euros for the Spaniard.

Rodri plays for Athletico Madrid as well. The 22 years old, whose main position is the number 6, is 191 cm tall, which is a big advantage in getting at the end of long balls. Just as Saul, Rodri also is not lacking in the defensive part of the game, even getting in more tackles then Fernandinho (3.3 per game).

A big plus for him is that he has a passing accuracy of 90.2%, which is even better than the City midfielder's 87.9%. Being disposed 0.9 per game is not a great number, but still is acceptable and probably would improve under Pep. The only thing that lets him down is apparent when you look at the amount of passes. 55.6 passes per game is better than Saul, but still does not come close to Fernandinho's 75.3. The lack of passes may, in both cases, be to the tactics of Athletico Madrid, which are playing a more defensive brand of football. CIES states that Rodri is 73 million euros an as a result an even cheaper investment than Saul.

Declan Rice is already playing in the Premier League and counts as a homegrown player. Aged 20 he is the youngest player on the list but also the least experienced one. He already has played 64 games for West Ham but only 40 of those came as a defensive midfielder. In those, he managed to average 3 tackles per game (0.9 more than Ferna) and the same amount of interceptions as Fernandinho. Only missing out on clearances with 1 less than the 33 year old. Rice also is familiar with precise service, averaging 85.6% pass accuracy per game. The biggest surprise in my opinion is that he is only disposed 0.6 times per game, which is great sign for his consciousness on the ball. Again the lack of passes may ruin his statistics (46 per game), but as West Ham is midtable team, they are not used to command the play and for that reason lack in possession. The costs for getting the English international cope around the 65 million euro mark.

Verdict:

Replacing Fernandinho is neither easy nor cheap. He got an unique player profile and ability which nearly none other player has. In my opinion, the 2 players who could fit the bill are Rodrigo and Declan Rice. While I prefer the first one (due to fact of him having more experience and being a technical better player), Rice surprised me this season and if he keeps on playing on this level even could outperform Rodri in the Fernandinho role. Even though it is nearly impossible that the Brazilian could be 1on1 replaced, I would put my money on Rodrigo, who seems to be the closest young player in the world to be the next Guardiola number 6. 

Real Betis Balompie v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga
Real Betis Balompie v Club Atletico de Madrid - La Liga
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