As Champions League begins, can Fernandinho handle the workload?

Manchester City may have won the Premier League title in 2013/14, pipping Brendan Rodgers’ Liverpool to the crown on the final day of the season, but their recruitment the previous summer was a mixed bag.

Alvaro Negredo, a £20m acquisition from Sevilla, began the campaign brightly, scoring 23 goals in his first 33 appearances in all competitions. The Spanish centre-forward quickly faded, though, failing to find the back of the net in the Premier League after January 12 before departing the club at the end of the season. Fellow striker Stevan Jovetic made just 11 top-flight starts during his time in Manchester, which was disrupted by persistent injury problems; at the other end of the field, Martin Demichelis was often unfairly maligned yet was manifestly not the type of defender who would take Manuel Pellegrini’s men to the next level. Jesus Navas, meanwhile, remained at the Etihad Stadium for four years without ever really convincing.

The only signing from the summer of 2013 who can be considered an unqualified success is Fernandinho, the most expensive addition at £30m. The Brazilian joined from Shakhtar Donetsk and went on to play 33 Premier League games as City won their second championship in three seasons, with the midfielder – who was used as both a holding player and in a box-to-box role – chipping in with three assists and five goals, including a brace in the thrilling 6-3 victory over Arsenal in December.

Many felt Fernandinho would be moved on when Pep Guardiola took charge at the Etihad in the summer of 2016, but he has instead become a key player under the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich head coach. Deployed behind David Silva and Kevin De Bruyne in the engine room last term, the ex-Atletico Paranaense man was outstanding as City romped to the title with a record-breaking haul of 100 points. Often doing the unglamorous work in front of the back four which allowed others to express themselves higher up the pitch, Fernandinho helped break up opposition counter-attacks and set his own team on the front foot with his efficient, intelligent distribution.

Yet despite his outstanding contribution to a phenomenal season, the Brazil international faced the possibility of demotion to the substitutes’ bench in 2018/19. Guardiola made Jorginho his primary target in the transfer market, with Napoli’s metronome identified as the ideal long-term successor to Fernandinho at the base of the midfield. City appeared in pole position to land the deep-lying playmaker, but Chelsea’s appointment of Maurizio Sarri – who coached Jorginho at the Stadio San Paolo – changed everything and the Brazil-born Italy international duly headed to Stamford Bridge instead.

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Many managers may have hastily sought out alternatives, but Guardiola made it clear he would not be signing another midfielder having failed to land the player he really wanted. The Catalan’s pursuit of Jorginho was not a reflection of Fernandinho’s ability, but recognition that at 33 years of age he may now struggle to cope with the demands of playing almost 50 matches a season, as was the case in 2017/18. With the Champions League group stage getting under way this week – City’s first assignment is a clash with Lyon at the Etihad on Wednesday night – it will be interesting to see how the Brazilian copes with the workload for the remainder of the campaign.

“Everything we have done so far we couldn’t have done without him. No way,” Guardiola said in April. “It wouldn’t have been possible on and off the pitch. He is a real captain, always shows up, never stays back. Normally he plays good. He’s a gift for me to have him here at City. One of the big memories when I’m not manager here will be the pleasure to have been his manager in Manchester. I’m so happy to have him here.”

Yet Guardiola did sound a note of caution following the 2-1 defeat of Newcastle United, stating that “for now it’s no problem because we play one game a week” when asked about Fernandinho’s lack of rest so far this season. The Brazilian has played every minute of every game in the Premier League in 2018/19 but will need to be managed carefully in the coming months, which could prove to be one of Guardiola’s biggest challenges this term.

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