Manchester City moved to within three points of league leaders Liverpool with a 3-1 win over Arsenal at the weekend and then regained their seat at the top of the table with a 2-o victory over Everton on Wednesday.
Fernandinho deputised for captain Vincent Kompany at the heart of defence against the Gunners and did well to deal with the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette – if Pep Guardiola opts to place the organiser in the back four against Chelsea, though, the Blues will walk over City once again.
Last time the two met, Chelsea inflicted the first defeat of the season upon the Etihad Stadium outfit as they ran out 2-o winners, courtesy of goals from N’Golo Kante and David Luiz and, should he continue with the lineup he used against the Gunners, Guardiola risks a repeat of that December clash.
Fernandinho completed 2 tackles and 3 clearances as City strolled to the win over Unai Emery’s men but the 33-year-old is wasted in that role – in fact, City are far more easy opponents when he is absent from their midfield.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk man is the lynchpin of Guardiola’s side, anchoring the midfield so that Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva can operate with minimal defensive responsibilities and, when he doesn’t feature as the base of the trio, City are far more easily undone.
Fernandinho is the glue that binds City’s defence and midfield together and if you move him into the back four you lose his impact further upfield. Why might Guardiola do this, then?
Well, with Vincent Kompany ruled out, City are in desperate need of a leader to regiment their defence – this has often proved to be their weak point, as the likes of John Stones and Kyle Walker are guilty of making mistakes on occasion, and having someone of Fernandinho’s ilk to boss the back line makes a big difference.
The Spanish manager, though, must risk leaving his defence a tad more exposed by putting Fernandinho in his natural role – the only realistic option beyond putting the enforcer into defence is to field his most experienced back line possible, leaving no room for Stones, unfortunately.
Chelsea, meanwhile, bounced back from their drubbing at Bournemouth as they hammered a hopeless Huddersfield 5-0, with Gonzalo Higuain getting his first goals in blue.
The Argentine was spotted by Kante – who seems to be developing into a top class centre-midfielder, despite having established himself as the Premier League’s best ball-winner since his title-winning 2015/16 season with Leicester – making a run behind the defence and he slotted it coolly.
The pass from Kante was exquisite and a sign that the diminutive Frenchman is far from just a ball-chaser – his energy and new-found vision will be a huge threat to City, who must be wary of his attacking prowess as well as his defensive solidity.
Without Fernandinho in their midfield, City face being completely overrun by Kante and co, who will run themselves into the ground to get the three points. It’s either that or you shackle De Bruyne and Silva with defensive duties, which simply cannot happen.
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