Fernandinho can extend his Manchester City career in central defence, says Pep Guardiola

Fernandinho can extend his Manchester City career by making a permanent switch to the centre of their defence according to a man who should know, his manager Pep Guardiola.

The Catalan coach already employed such a move, with great success, by moving former Liverpool midfielder Javier Mascherano into defence at Barcelona and, with Fernandinho turning 35 before his current City contract expires next summer, Guardiola has already flirted with the idea.

Last weekend, against Arsenal, Guardiola surprisingly left England centre-half John Stones on the bench, playing his Brazilian midfielder there instead.

The result was an emphatic 3-1 win for City and yet another outstanding performance from Fernandinho, one of the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders who now looks equally at home as a central defender.

“I think he can play in that position, I am pretty sure,” said Guardiola. “He is fast, he is strong in the air, good going backwards and when he sees the football in front of him, his vision for the pass inside, switch of play is excellent. 

“So he is intelligent to go forward or go backwards, so he understands everything. Of course he has to train more at it. I think he can do it, but his position is as a midfield player.”

Guardiola, talking before his side’s league game with Chelsea, appeared to have gambled last week when he left England centre-half John Stones on the bench and played Fernandinho there instead.

Not for the first time, Guardiola’s selection last week raised eyebrows although, certainly not for the first time, he was eventually proved right.

Fernandinho has proved invaluable to Guardiola’s City team (Reuters)

Not that the City manager does not know what is coming if, and when, he makes a mistake with such a tactic.

“I know what is going to happen, we are going to lose when Fernandinho plays in that position,” he said. “I am a genius, huh? 

“But I discover a surprise for the opponents doing that and I know what is going to happen. ‘Why do you take a risk and leave £45m 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.

“It is better to be always in the same position, you know that, always there and not change too much but when the player is open minded and accept and you speak to him in training and he say, ‘I can do it’, and he understands the situation, it is not a problem.”

Fernandinho’s contract runs out next summer, by which time he will be 35, which has focused Guardiola’s attention on finding his successor although the City manager admits that is not an easy process.

“The scouting department always are looking for players for different positions and you never know what is going to happen,” he said. 

“We have some options and are looking for some options but today it is not easy to find the player and to buy the player so we will see. You know, we spoke many times about that. We are trying to help Fernandinho in that position.”

Fernandinho usually operates in a defensive midfield role (Getty Images)

Guardiola, meanwhile, believes his team’s efforts to retain their title have shown their true character as they aim to become the first club in a decade to repeat as champions.

Amazingly, no side since Manchester United in 2009 has won back-to-back league titles although City are looking capable of doing so as they compete at the top with Liverpool and Tottenham.

Since 2013, the defending champions has finished an average of 25 points behind the next season’s winners and the last three defences have been catastrophic – Chelsea finishing 30 points behind City last season, Leicester 49 points off first place in 2017 and Chelsea 31 points behind a year earlier.

“I know, in the last five or six years, the position where the champions were the year after. All of them were out and didn’t have a chance to win the Premier League,” he said.

“However, we are there. That is what I like the most in this season. So when people say that you underestimated Newcastle, you under-estimated teams in Europe, or whatever. 

“I say we are in the Carabao Cup Final and you are in all the competitions then we are fighting. In the last two seasons, Leicester and Chelsea had no chance, but we are there at the top.

“That is what I like the most but if we want to be there until the end. If we win against Chelsea it will help us and if we win the game, I am sure we will be there again fighting to be champions again.”

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