Pep Guardiola admits he is struggling to find a successor for his magnificent Brazilian midfielder Fernandinho as he plots to extend the 33-year-old’s career with a possible switch to defence.
Fernandinho played there, to the surprise of many given that England centre-half John Stones was left on the bench, and turned in a superb display in last week’s 3-1 win over Arsenal.
His manager may well play safe and not make a similar decision at home to Chelsea on Sunday, as the leaders look to keep pressure on Liverpool in an absorbing title race.
But with Fernandinho out of contract next summer, by which time he will be 35, Guardiola may repeat what he did with Javier Mascherano at Barcelona and look to move him there permanently.
‘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.’
‘I know what is going to happen when we lose when Fernandinho plays in that position. I am a genius, huh?
‘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.’
However, replacing Fernandinho’s pivotal role in midfield will be no easy task. Having lost out on Napoli’s Jorginho to Chelsea last summer, Guardiola admits progress is slow in landing a replacement.