Fernandinho

Guardiola says Fernandinho-Rodri CB pairing helped build-up

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Pep Guardiola was willing to play with fire, and still got a clean sheet.

It was Ederson who often made sure the Manchester City manager didn’t get burned for his decision to play midfielders Fernandinho and Rodri at center back in a 2-0 defeat of Crystal Palace at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Crystal Palace 0-2 Man City ]

So how did Guardiola prepare for the decision to use the duo with John Stones not fully fit and Nicolas Otamendi picking up a midweek knock?

“Rodri did not train one day in that position,” he said. “The back four responded well I think.”

Cary Elwes double-take meme. Excuse us? Wow.

While the pair did have its share of dodgy moments at the back, Guardiola liked what they brought to the game.

“Our build-up was quicker because they have more intelligence and they pass the ball so well because they are central midfielders,” he said.

Guardiola was asked about City’s sensational second goal (above), as Raheem Sterling capped a neat team move with a superb scoop to David Silva for a fantastic finish.

“We enjoyed the second goal, it was nice,” he said. “But in the Premier League we have to score the third and fourth because it was difficult in the end with the pressure.”

Now City builds for a Champions League midweek match with Atalanta, where a win would put the Premier League champions on the verge of a knockout round berth and ease Pep’s lineup choices for the congested next few weeks.

Silva’s sensational goal highlights Man City win over Palace

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Manchester City scored twice in two first half minutes to dispatch hosts Crystal Palace in a 2-0 win with plenty of flash points at Selhurst Park on Saturday.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

David Silva and Gabriel Jesus scored the goals and Ederson made a number of stylish saves in the victory, with Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva supplying assists.

City moves back into second place with 19 points, five behind leaders Liverpool who visit Manchester United on Sunday.

Palace will finish the weekend sixth on 14 points.


Three things we learned

1. Fits and starts for odd CB pairing: Pep Guardiola was without an injured Nicolas Otamendi and perhaps not ready to put 90 minutes on returning John Stones, so he deployed center mids Rodri and Fernandinho at center back. There were several dicey moments for the pair, who also did well at times in the clean sheet, but perhaps most glaring was Rodri’s absence from the midfield. He’d go there for the final 10 minutes when Stones subbed into the match. If you doubted that Pep would make his employers open the checkbook in January, this lineup may have settled that for you.

2. VAR is so weird: Wilfried Zaha shoved Kevin De Bruyne to turf with two hands, turning the playmaker on his route to the turf. Anthony Taylor didn’t see it, but hey, that’s why we have VAR, correct? Incorrect. VAR backed up the ref on the field and Palace remained in the match. Truly head-scratching on a bad day for the system.

3. Zaha not all there but shows flashes of brilliance: Crystal Palace’s Ivorian star wants out of South London, and it’s affecting his play. The winger disputes every touch from the opposition — he is fouled a lot — who knows they can get to him. He’s produced just one assist this season, and he simply doesn’t have the right desire to get things done for Roy Hodgson.

But, my, when he’s ready to roar. Zaha had several mazy dribbles in the final third and was denied a smashing goal by a flying Ederson in the 89th minute. It wasn’t enough to offset the headaches, like when he followed referee Anthony Taylor around the pitch begging for a yellow card following a tactical foul.

Man of the Match: Sterling — A killer at both ends, even if he missed a would-be third goal in the 87th.


[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

City flew out of the gates, and Palace’s heads were spinning over the first 10 minutes despite the reigning champions’ lack of finish.

Palace’s business was in the counter, and Wilfried Zaha raced down the pitch for a chance only to see Fernandinho intervene and cut out the danger in the 19th.

Raheem Sterling made an incredible recovery run to track Zaha after Rodri slipped to the pitch just inside his own half and allowed the Ivorian a path toward glory.

City’s breakthrough came before halftime, as Jesus dove to turn a header off the post and into the goal from a Bernardo Silva cross.

And it was 2-0 within a couple of minutes in marvelous fashion, Sterling scooping a pass over the defense and David Silva spotting the ball in front of him to lash home.

This is sensational stuff.

Joao Cancelo had one of his better performance since joining City from Juventus, and played a 1-2 with Jesus which ended with an amazing save from Wayne Hennesey.

Palace had a vivid spell of possession and nearly pulled one back off a Christian Benteke header which Ederson flew to slap off the crossbar.

At the other end, it should’ve been put to bed when Gabriel Jesus had the ball at the near post and Kevin De Bruyne raced into space for an easy tap-in. Jesus shot instead and was saved.

De Bruyne headed an Ilkay Gundogan pass off the far post with 10 minutes to play.

Zaha saw a rip saved by Ederson, who was fantastic, as time dwindled in South London.

Top Premier League storylines: Week 6

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Of the seven Premier League sides to handle midweek Europeans challenges, only two face-off and that predictably is the hallmark of the weekend in England.

[ MORE: Silva to Inter Miami? ]

What else is cooking? Smell the aromas of the weekend ahead, below.


How will Frank Lampard attack Liverpool?

  • Chelsea v. Liverpool, Sunday, 11:30 a.m. ET on NBCSN

The Blues’ 5-2 defeat at Wolves last week did not help spin a win over Valencia in the Champions League, and Frank Lampard’s next chance to make a statement comes against a team that is perfect in PL play and finds itself licking its wounds from a subpar performance at Napoli. Can a very fresh Christian Pulisic make the difference for Chelsea? Will Callum Hudson-Odoi take the positive vibes from his new contract and solid PL2 appearance into the fray?


Will Fernandinho help stabilize Man City against improving Watford?

  • Man City v. Watford, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

City went to Ukraine and blanked Shakhtar Donetsk with Nicolas Otamendi and Fernandinho at center back, and the Brazilian center midfielder says he’s been preparing for his possibility for some time. If Watford looks anything like it looked in a 2-2 draw with Arsenal, we could see a very decent test for City’s back line.


Weary Spurs get top-half test from Leicester City

  • Leicester City v. Tottenham Hotspur, Saturday, 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Inconsistent Tottenham meets a Leicester City side with Top Six ambitions, licking its wounds from a 1-0 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford which probably deserved a point. Spurs aren’t feeling great following another blown 2-0 lead in a big spot away from home. How will they react in Leicester?


Will Solskjaer’s midweek rest risk reap rewards on Sunday?

  • West Ham United v. Manchester United, Sunday, 9 a.m. ET on NBCSN

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is set to hand heavy minutes to youngsters and second-choice players against Kazakh side Astana on Thursday at Old Trafford. Will that pay off when trying to stop Sebastien Haller, Felipe Anderson, and Manuel Pellegrini‘s Irons on Sunday morning?


Early season six-pointer at St. James’ Park

  • Newcastle United v. Brighton and Hove Albion, Saturday, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Look, it’s Week Six and normally we’d say anything can happen in a Premier League season, but let’s be reasonable: If you’re looking at the teams for Newcastle and Brighton, this result will matter as many as any down the stretch in determining Premier League status for 2019/20.

Guardiola credits Gundogan for ‘outstanding’ match in Ukraine

Photo by Matt McNulty - Manchester City/Manchester City FC via Getty Images
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Manchester City bounced back from its weekend loss to Norwich City by dominating Shakhtar Donestk, collecting a 3-0 win in Ukraine to start life in this UEFA Champions League season.

Ilkay Gundogan, a scapegoat for some in the weekend’s loss to Norwich City, came back to form, too, chipping in a goal and an assist in the win.

[ RECAP: Shakhtar Donetsk 0-3 Man City ]

City manager Pep Guardiola was asked whether the German midfielder flies under the radar.

“He gets the credit from all of us, not just myself,” Guardiola said, via The Manchester Evening News. “He’s an exceptional player. Also he knows how good he has to play, as there are many others in that position.”

Guardiola also credited Gundogan for his work last season. Just like Fernandinho is playing out-of-position now, Gundogan was filling in for the Brazilian last season.

“People are starting to look at what he’s done. Without him last season when Fernanindho was out we couldn’t have won the Premier League in the way we did. He can play in two or three different positions and against Shakhtar he made an outstanding performance.”

As for Fernandinho, the Brazilian said that he’s been training at center back plenty this season, even before injuries to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.

Fernandinho said “everyone should be ready” for any role under Guardiola.

He was good enough on the day, partnering with Nicolas Otamendi in a move that has many making comparisons to what Guardiola did with midfielder Javier Mascherano at Barcelona.

That’s one of the things for which Guardiola, perhaps, has not received enough credit. Center midfielders Fabian Delph or Oleksandr Zinchenko have been serviceable left backs in two of the best seasons in Premier League history (The latter did get some minutes in the middle when Benjamin Mendy subbed in on Wednesday). And Gundogan is playing a more defensive role than usual, while Fernandinho is a center back.

If that works out, and City claims a UCL crown or PL three-peat, how could you not call this man the clear-cut best of the modern era?

Man City midfield controls Shakhtar in Ukraine

SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP/Getty Images
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Manchester City got its UEFA Champions League run off to a convincing start, easing some nerves from the weekend with a 3-0 defeat of Shakhtar Donetsk in Ukraine on Wednesday.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan set each other up for goals, Gabriel Jesus also scored, and Fernandinho partnered with Nicolas Otamendi at center back to earn the clean sheet.


Three things we learned

1. Midfield runs the match: Center backs aren’t all that vital if the ball never gets to them, and Ilkay Gundogan and Rodri were exceptional (even with the latter taking an early yellow card). Rodri completed every single one of his 82 passes in helping City control the park, departing with less than a quarter-hour to play. Pep Guardiola had a lot of love for Gundogan’s day.

2. De Bruyne dangerous on an off day: Kevin De Bruyne just couldn’t find that final ball, constantly in dangerous areas but unable to execute that moment. Credited with three key passes including th, his shooting was the glaring difference between 3-0 and 5-0.

3. Shakhtar shows creative flair: Taison and Marlos both showed a knack for taking on defenders, each credited with four dribbles on the day. It was Shakhtar’s best chance to break down a disciplined City, and the closest the hosts came to succeeding on the day.

Man of the Match: Rodri


A Kevin De Bruyne free kick provided an early threat, but Rodri’s header was a bit off and unable to open the scoring in Ukraine.

Shakhtar then had a nice spell of possession, but City was up to the task. Rodri led a chance in the other direction and sent a ball back De Bruyne for a header, which was wide like the first.

Mahrez put City ahead on a rebound after Ilkay Gundogan took a Gabriel Jesus feed and pushed the ball off the post.

The Algerian didn’t need a post to return the favor, sending a delightful pass into the path of Gundogan for a smooth finish an 2-0.

De Bruyne finally got his assist when he took care of a bounding ball to Jesus for a chop into the goal.