Manchester City: Fernandinho’s injury offers Gundogan a new challenge
With the ever-present Brazilian set to miss a few weeks, Gundogan should take the chance with both hands.
In the Carabao Cup final on Sunday, the injury to Fernandinho was the one negative in Manchester City’s stroll to victory over Arsenal.
After the match, Guardiola told the media: “He’s injured. The next games he’ll be out. We’ll assess him tomorrow but he’s a big, big loss.”
It’s still unknown the extent of the Brazilian midfielder’s hamstring injury but it appears a certainty he’ll miss the next couple of fixtures at least – with Arsenal again and Chelsea this week to play.
City’s beating heart
Fernandinho has been almost ever-present for Manchester City this season, featuring in every single Premier League match. Of the outfielder players at Guardiola’s disposal, only Kevin De Bruyne and Nicolas Otamendi have clocked up more minutes in total.
The Brazilian is one of Manchester City’s most important players. Raheem Sterling, David Silva, Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are all exceptional footballers but, if they are absent, there are others who can carry out the same functions within the team. Manchester City do not possess a player who can do what Fernandinho does at the base of midfield.
Perhaps only an injury to Ederson, with the step down so demonstrably worse with Claudio Bravo between the sticks, would have such a damaging effect.
The injury could bring scrutiny on City’s January recruitment strategy. With the regular injuries to Vincent Kompany and the inadequate Eliaquim Mangala having had to feature on a number of occasions, a centre half was a necessary acquisition. But Manchester City could have waited until the summer to sign Aymeric Laporte.
A defensive midfielder – Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred if the rumours are correct – might have been the more necessary signing midway through the season. Could City have pushed harder to get him?
With or without you
The timing for Manchester City could be a lot worse: the league is effectively wrapped up, the domestic competitions are over for them and after scoring four away in Basel, they don’t play a match of real consequence until the Champions League quarterfinals in early April.
However, Chelsea and Arsenal should pose sterner tests than is ideal with a key player missing. On a points basis, Manchester City can afford to lose both. But to compete for European glory, it’s imperative they enter the Spring in good form. The Champions League is more about peaking at the right time as opposed to looking the best for the majority of the season.
Also, the suspension of Fabian Delph could have come at a better time. Delph will be out of both the Arsenal and Chelsea fixtures after his red card against Wigan, so Guardiola is robbed of an option in the short term. Nominally a defensive midfielder, Delph would have been a conventional replacement.
With Delph out, Yaya Toure seemingly no longer having the legs to feature in important games, there is one option for Guardiola. There are leftfield options – for example, trying out John Stones, and the Catalan manager has a precedent for experimenting with this position at Bayern Munich – but there is no need for innovation or taking risky measures at this point.
The substitution Guardiola made as Fernandinho was forced off at Wembley was telling in the short-term and encouraging: Bernardo Silva came on and Ilkay Gundogan dropped deeper. Having been a little sluggish in the first half, unable to play their finest football, Manchester City had their best spell of form after this point.
Arsenal might have hoped the injury could have served as a turning point in their favour but, instead, it was Manchester City who shifted up a gear to take the game beyond them.
Time to shine
Gundogan has been in exceptional form recently. His performance against Basel, in particular, showcased a player who is unfortunate not to feature in the first team.
But with everyone fit, he wouldn’t feature. To accommodate him, Guardiola would have to change his preferred system – the 4-3-3 – or drop one of Fernandinho, David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne, who are each close to perfection in terms of their roles.
Injuries to forwards, such Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling of late, have given Gündoğan more opportunities. However, this has usually been in a midfield with more numbers, either sitting alongside Fernandinho or ahead of him – allowing him the ability to make forward runs and offer more of an offensive threat.
The injury to Fernandinho means the German will have to adapt to a different role and display other qualities. He will still demonstrate an impressive range of passing but Gundogan will have to do more out of possession – especially to stop counters from the fast players he will face this week.
While Willian, Eden Hazard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will run into space, and players like Mesut Ozil and Cesc Fabregas can thread dangerous passes to them, can Gundogan position himself adequately to stop them? Does he have the requisite physicality to win the ball back and commit necessary fouls?
We will soon find out.
How do you think Ilkay Gundogan will fare as a replacement for Fernandinho? Let us know your thoughts by commenting below.