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Jesús Navas and Fernando: Guardiola has reasons to keep both

Like Liam Neeson, it appears Fernando Reges and Jesus Navas have a very particular set of skills that Pep Guardiola believes will come in handy when he takes over as manager of Manchester City in July. While moves for European great whites Toni Kroos and Paul Pogba have been ruled out, Fernando ‘The Octopus’ and his friend Jesus or ‘pajarito’, meaning ‘little bird’ in Spanish, have been assured of their places at the club according to the latest reports.

Opting to keep the pair, widely regarded as two of our most limited players, instead of targeting the more esteemed names of world football may represent a lack of ambition to some but it is with good reason that they remain in Guardiola’s plans.

The fact we’re even talking about Fernando playing football is testament to the the hard work he’s put in this season. The Brazilian’s first year in England was one to forget – his poor form down to playing “a lot of games with pain” if you ask the man himself – and one that saw the fan base unify to call for the clumsy midfielder’s head. But the turnaround as emphatic. Fernando became a key player for the side in the 2015-16 campaign, performing particularly well alongside Fernandinho in what was an impressive Champions League run. It was Fernando’s positional awareness and appetite for a crunching tackle that helped City to combat the most ruthless of midfields in the competition.

So the lad is a decent tackler and does a sound job of tidying things up in front of the back four, but is that enough for a Pep Guardiola midfield? There’s a general acceptance that the Spanish tactician prioritises his midfields and ensures each player included in it is proficient in retaining possession and recycling the ball quickly; skills one may not attribute to the former Porto man. Fernando, though, has demonstrated that there may be more to his game than meets the eye. No player in the squad with over 20 appearances to their name can boast a higher pass accuracy percentage than the 28-year-old (89%) and out of an attempted 20 take-ons, Fernando completed an impressive 80% of them in Manuel Pellegrini’s last season at the club. Should the incoming manager wish to employ Fernando in a more expressive role on the field, he’d be able to do a job.

But, with the attacking-minded Fernandinho and now İlkay Gündoğan on the roster, that’s unlikely. Guardiola is likely to target another creative midfielder in this summer’s transfer window and his squad will need a reliable defensive midfielder to sit in front of the defence and ensure a swift transition from the back to the front. Fernando made only one mistake that led to a goal in the league and is one of the more athletic members of the team, making him an incredibly useful option. It’s not just passers that Guardiola looks for, it’s dependable ones too and Fernando is as dependable as they come.

While Fernando is likely to remain as a defensive midfielder, it has been suggested that Jesús Navas could be converted into a wing-back. Navas is a player who likes to play in straight lines, rarely cutting inside to invite either Bacary Sagna or Pablo Zabaleta to overlap. The Spaniard’s game therefore is too predictable and his end product in the final third is too often lacking. Navas, comfortably the quickest player in this squad, should be brutal on the counter attack but it is perhaps a damning indictment of his impotence in the final third that we only managed to score five counter attacking goals last term. Guardiola will surely be looking for a more cold-blooded attacker to fill Navas’s boots in the next three months.

But everything Navas lacks in attacking positions he makes up for in defensive nous and work rate. Like Fernando, Navas was another unsung hero in our European campaign, ensuring the side was balanced and that Sagna was well protected down the right flank. The 30-year-old is blessed with excellent close control meaning he rarely loses the ball and made no defensive errors leading to goals last season. Those are attributes that the side could benefit from further down the pitch. There will be questions over Navas’s physicality and whether or not he’s capable of a crunching tackle, but Pep knows a thing or two about helping players to excel in unfamiliar positions.

By no means are either likely to hold down a starting role in next season’s XI, but there’s no doubt that they remain useful and reliable options for Guardiola.

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