Everything against Newcastle was going so well until half time. We were leading 2-0 going into the break and it felt so much better after that demonic experience at Madrid. I was sitting there in the break and thinking about the character we have shown in the tie. It was a very soothing feeling at half time in what has been a pressure cooker in the last couple of months.
But, we are a club that continue to throw surprises even on the most serene days. It was a huge surprise for me to see Fernandinho walking out after half time. The first thing in my mind was, who is he in for? At first i thought that maybe Pep wanted to give Rodri a rest. But, the cameras slowly zoomed to Dias and his ice pack. The worst fears were realized when pep announced in the post match press conference that Stones, Walker and Dias were out for the season.
We still have to face 2 incredibly physical teams away from home and i do pray that Ake is fit to start all our remaining games. Fernandinho can deputize at center back but he has not got the legs anymore to play an intense 90 mins. Also, we will be playing two extremely good counter attacking sides in Wolves and West Ham. I don’t trust Fernandinho at 37 to be able to play a high line and sprint back to prevent a counter attack.
Pep has only 2 options to choose from here, unless he decides to go with Mbete from the academy. Admist all this, there again comes the problem of balance and having Ake would mean that we will have 2 left footed center backs. Against teams sitting deep, Pep usually prefers to have a left and right footed center back combination. He loves his defenders to hit those diagonals on the wings to isolate his wingers in 1v1 situations against the opposition full backs.
Fernandinho is a master at playing those diagonal balls and this is one major attribute that could force Pep to play him ahead of Ake. Ake might not be the most attacking of City center backs, but he offers you that safety and security defensively. For me, Ake is one of the best 1v1 defenders in the premier league. Also, Ake is one of the best aerially in the Premier League. He is exceptional at both defending from crosses and also scoring those headers from set pieces. So, it all depends on how Pep thinks about the games in terms of that balance between attack and defense
The run-in is not as straight forward as some people might like to imagine. Yes, we have got that cushion after Liverpool have dropped the points against Spurs. But, we have 2 incredibly tough away games without most of our first choice back line. These next 3 games are going to be super tense and the choice of our center back to partner Laporte might just decide the destination of the Premier League title