Pep Guardiola’s recent comments that he will not be paying over the odds for a midfielder are fine as far as they go. But the fragility that has become apparent due to an over reliance on Fernandinho has started to cost the team games, and given Liverpool’s continued strength, it could end up costing a whole lot more when May comes around.
A pattern that needs to be broken
When Fernandinho is out in the middle and firing on all cylinders, the Manchester City match winning machine looks as strong as ever. But when he is not, the team often drops a level. The 33 year old Brazilian has missed three Premier League games so far, and the fact that City have lost two of them speaks volumes.
Guardiola has tried Fabian Delph, Ilkay Gundogan and even defender John Stones in the position, but none have been close to as impressive as Fernandinho there. Liverpool are now four points clear and you do not need a degree in how to work out betting odds to see that the bookmakers are increasingly shifting towards The Reds. Most now have Liverpool as odds on favourites to win the Premier League, while City have slipped to around 5/4 against.
This, then, is not a time for experimentation. City need a solution, not a theory, and many of the fans have taken to Twitter to say that solution is Ruben Neves.
Whatever it takes
One City fan on Twitter, Paul Hallsworth, led the charge, saying the club needs to pay “whatever it takes” to get Neves in a blue shirt as soon as possible. Others on social media were quick to agree, saying the Wolves midfielder has all the ingredients to be a long term replacement for Fernandinho.
When Neves signed for Wolves in 2017, it was for an undisclosed fee, but if the rumours of £16 million are correct, that would have been a record for both club and league. Neves was instrumental in Wolves’ ascension to the top flight, but more to the point, he has provided the backbone in the midfield to help them compete at the highest level, something that fellow promotion clubs Cardiff and Fulham have failed to do.
That’s quite something for a man who is still just 21 years of age and who was not deemed good enough to make Portugal’s final squad for last year’s World Cup.
Pep Guardiola is not a man to be railroaded in the transfer market, however. He scoffed at the rumours of a £100 million price tag on Neves, saying the club would not be paying that sort of money for him or, indeed, any other midfielder in what he sees to be a “holding” role.
“A month ago, I started reading ‘Ruben Neves, £100 million’. That is not going to happen,” said Guardiola. “We are not going to pay £100 million for a holding midfielder.”
This is not the news that the City faithful might want to hear. The reported addition of Croatian U19 captain Ante Palaversa might bode well for the future, but will do little to help close the gap on the leaders over the remainder of 2019. In the meantime, fans will be hoping Fernandinho’s body can hold up in the hectic schedule ahead.