How do Man City replace Fernandinho? From Jorginho failure to De Jong and Ruben Neves transfer plans
Don't ask Fernandinho if he needs a rest.
"I had a rest last week," he said after Saturday's 5-0 rout of Burnley, "I’ve been in Dubai for a week. I have enough time to rest."
He is, in some ways, Manchester City's most important player this season. Partly because of how he patrols Pep Guardiola's midfield, facilitating the build-up and guarding against counter-attacks, but mainly because none of his team-mates can do it like he does.
That will explain why only two outfield players played more minutes than him last season, and why only one has played more than him this season.
He is 33 now, played at the World Cup in the summer and has been known to slow down after Christmas, but in 11 Premier League and Champions League games so far this season he has played 974 minutes out of 990.
His goal on Saturday put City 3-0 up with just 56 minutes gone and was the signal for Kevin De Bruyne to return to action, yet Fernandinho stayed on until the end.
He insists it is no problem: "I feel like I'm 25 now," he says. Is this the fittest he's ever felt? "Yes. I don’t know [why]. When you are out of international duty you can forget a little bit about football, spend more time with your family and clean your mind and your body. I think it helps a lot."
He has not closed the door on Brazil but an imminent recall is unlikely after he was scapegoated for their World Cup exit, and that is good news for City.
“I would like to sign maybe one more, because we don’t have specific players to substitute Fernandinho," Guardiola said in August after missing out on Jorginho. "If no other player arrives, I have to find a solution."
Yet the City boss has not seemed particularly convinced by those solutions, with Fabian Delph, Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones, and even Douglas Luiz all mooted, but only ever likely to be used if Fernandinho is injured or banned.
That is why City are trying to bring in a new midfielder in January, separately from their ongoing interest in Frenkie De Jong.
Goal understands City have told Ajax they will pay €70 million plus €20m in bonuses for the 21-year-old as they want to get a deal tied up as soon as possible. City know Barcelona are also firmly in the race and both clubs would be happy to sign him in January and loan him back to Ajax until the summer if that is what it takes.
But City want to strengthen ahead of the second part of the season and are also hoping to bring in another midfielder in January, with Ruben Neves and Tanguy Ndombele featuring heavily in their thoughts.
The Midlands club are driving a hard bargain, insisting they want around £100m for the Portuguese 21-year-old. City are willing to pay top dollar for De Jong, but want Wolves to drop their demands for Neves. Oleksandr Zinchenko could be included in a deal, although a January sale would still be hard to swallow for Wolves fans.
If City decide they do need a player in January and if Neves is unobtainable they could turn to Ndombele. City have been keeping a close eye on the 21-year-old France international since last season, and the usually stubborn Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas has been uncharacteristically receptive to the idea: “When players decide to play for Madrid, Barcelona or Manchester, I can’t guarantee that we’ll be able to keep Ndombele or (Houssem) Aouar next summer," he said recently.
Last season City made moves in January to boost their hopes of winning the league and Champions League and that will be the case again, especially as they have already suffered in their two European games so far.
Fernandinho has not been the only guilty party, but he has certainly been among those caught out by the high-intensity approaches of Lyon and Hoffenheim. In both of those games City looked most comfortable, and most solid, when the Brazilian had company in the middle - Delph drifted in from left-back at times against Lyon, while Stones was brought on to form a double-pivot at Hoffenheim.
Things aren't likely to get much easier for City on that front given they now face back-to-back games against the energetic Shakhtar Donetsk, Fernandinho's former club.
It is by no means the end of the road for the Brazilian at City, however; against Liverpool he put in his best performance of the season, and he was impressive against Burnley, with Guardiola hailing his "incredible" performance as one of the club's best this season.
"I hope I can improve a little bit more," Fernandinho added. "It was good but I want to improve more, improve some details and get better to help the team."
He will get plenty of opportunities to do so in the coming weeks, but if City get their way in January he will get a lot more rest, whether he wants it or not.