Football is not always about glamor. In fact, it is generally not about glamor. On nights like this, when a team has a very specific plan to contain and counter, perhaps the most important virtues are patience and consistency.
Manchester City may be looking at the best season in their history, but they, like everyone else, need a player who can be trusted not to give away the ball, who maintains his position to block the fast break and commits tactical fouls when necessary.
Fernandinho will turn 36 in May and his contract expires in the summer. After a season in which he spent largely as a central defender, his starts have begun to be rationed now, just eight in the league so far this season.
But watching him play is witnessing a master class. For a decade he’s probably been the best midfielder of his kind in the world, but he’s a guy who almost by definition often goes unnoticed.
He’s not big, he’s not fast, he doesn’t spray flashy 40-yard passes. He barely scores, only 24 goals in 338 games for City. He doesn’t slide through defense, splitting balls, has only contributed 19 assists in his City career. And he doesn’t do the kind of crushing tackles that used to define the tough man in midfield.
But it is always there. He became a vital presence in Pep Guardiola’s first three seasons at City because his positional play is so astute. Much of his contribution defies statistical analysis because it relies heavily on simply being in the right place, deterring a pass and thus frustrating the opposition, or offering an angle that lubricates the flow of possession or opens spaces. Although he’s only 5-foot-10, there’s an argument that he’s technically the best header from a ball on the City team – each of Everton’s first three set pieces in vaguely dangerous areas were led by the Brazilian. .
And then there are the fouls: 335 of them in his Premier League career, and those are just the ones that have been detected, representing only a fraction of his production. Fernandinho is the Mozart of pragmatic intervention, a unique genius in a generation, a master of the clip, the nudge and the jerk. So subtle is that a foul by Fernandinho is 22.45% less likely to generate a warning than a foul by Lee Cattermole. When a yellow card finally arrived against Everton, and in that sense Fernandinho seems to have inherited Mark van Bommel’s invisibility cloak, it was because of an unapologetic block on Richarlison. Fernandinho is a rat catcher disguised as a conductor.
But, of course, it is much more. He was constantly moving around the rear of the attack, barely running, always finding space, always offering an option to retain possession if the initial probe of the attack was blocked.
His position allowed Oleksandr Zinchenko to play high up the field with Kyle Walker sitting a little deeper, offering a shield against Richarlison’s rhythm on the counter. And, more importantly, it allowed Aymeric Laporte to emerge from deep within which ultimately led to the breakthrough.
The sense of security it projects is profound. When Walker lost a pass in his own half in the 23rd minute, for example, presenting possession to Gylfi Sigurdsson, it was Fernandinho who appeared right in front of him, preventing a direct run into the box and forcing a pass out, slowing the ball. . attack and give the city time to regroup. It was a moment that would hardly be recorded, a flash of potential danger quickly extinguished, but that is precisely the value of Fernandinho. It was his career that created the opportunity for Raheem Sterling to pull the game’s first real save.
He even helped reconnect Michael Oliver’s radio receiver when it went offline; of course you are successful in solving a simple but necessary practical problem. On an evening when City used to get frustrated and lacked a bit of penetration, Fernandinho’s graceful efficiency stood out.
The end, perhaps, is not far off, but Fernandinho can be trusted, if not to rage against the death of the light, then at least to lead him to a less dangerous position. English football should appreciate a true teacher while it can.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism