Chelsea were crowned the Champions of Europe on Saturday when Kai Havertz’ goal proved to be the crucial factor in trouncing Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
As such, many argued that the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich gaffer overthought his starting lineup yet again, this time by not starting Fernandinho. The absence of the defensive midfielder in the holding spot ensured that the Sky Blues did not have apt cover, rendering the erstwhile capable centre-back pairing of John Stones and Ruben Dias toothless in the face of a pacey Chelsea onslaught.
Several supporters took note of this aspect of the game and even linked it to another defensive issue in England.
The absence of a capable defensive midfielder leading to a leaky backline is one that Manchester United have arguably been suffering from numerous seasons now. Thus, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, despite their defensive prowess, cannot alone be blamed for the instances wherein the Red Devils conceded far too many goals.
By the way:
Are you seeing both Dias and Stones having to defend multiple isolations and not doing the best? It’s not because they’re bad. It’s because isolations are suboptimal if you’re defending — the nature of football.
That’s what Lindelöf and Maguire have to deal with.
— UtdArena (@utdarena) May 29, 2021
As a logical parallel of the same, Dias’ heroics at the Etihad, his defensive excellence aside, cannot entirely be ascribed to the ethos of the centre-back alone. Rather, having a figure like Fernandinho drop in and provide much-needed cover is how Guardiola ensured such a successful backline, albeit not in the all-important Champions League final.
Thus, there is a clear cut importance to the role of the central defensive midfielder and even those in a holding role in the modern English game. At United, the pivot of Fred and Scott McTominay provide a muted semblance of the same. However, in the likes of Nemanja Matic, Ole Gunnar Solskjær does have a figure to provide such a tactical advantage, although in ageing feet. The same issue plagues Guardiola too given that Fernandinho just turned 36.
What will the two gaffers do to amend the same come summer?