There was a moment, the 86th minute to be exact, of Manchester City’s 3-1 away win over Dynamo Kyiv in the UEFA Champions League Last-16 when the value of an angry man was shown.
It came when Kyiv substitute Miguel Veloso received the ball on the half-turn. Before the Portuguese midfielder had chance to turn all the way he felt the full force of City’s grump in the middle, none other than forgotten angry man, Fernando.
Returning the ex-FC Porto man to the starting XI was a necessary move for City chief Manuel Pellegrini.
It afforded City many options, not the least of which was giving Yaya Toure a roving remit in the middle, while cerebral schemer David Silva played off the striker as a No. 10.
Toure and Silva were in positions that suited because Fernando was tasked with the dirty work, the gruelling chores no team’s flair players should waste too much time undertaking.
Toure, Silva and Sergio Aguero, City’s goalscorers on the night, had the freedom to interchange because of the platform Fernando provided behind them.
With a rugged, 28-year-old Brazilian back in the team, City played a 4-1-4-1 formation, the ideal structure for negotiating tough away fixtures in Europe’s premier club competition.
Fernando’s inclusion was long overdue. WhoScored.com noted how he’d made just 27 appearances in all competitions, with a mere 17 of those starts. Those numbers are too low for a player who provides the vital balance Pellegrini’s platoon of forward-thinking cavaliers desperately need.
Against Ukrainian opposition, the balance came from always being in the perfect position to frustrate Kyiv attackers and thwart forward advances. That meant rarely straying far from the area directly in front of Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi.
Fernando stayed the tip of the ‘W’ to offer the extra layer of protection City’s beleaguered back four lacked during Premier League defeats to Leicester City and Tottenham Hotspur.
He was a magnet for the spaces just in front and between Kompany and Otamendi. But his magnetism was radar-precise. Fernando was like a security gate, one that dropped down in front of the City defence at every sign of danger. The gate’s sensors were tripped whenever Kompany or Otamendi stepped out to make an advanced tackle, or if Toure indulged his wanderlust.
The only thing more precise than Fernando’s positioning was his distribution. Squawka detailed how accurate he was:
Fernando didn’t miss his targets because he never did more than he could. He played short, sensible passes to quickly get the ball to those who know how to use it, in other words, Toure, Silva and Co.
In terms of positioning and distribution, Fernando produced a defensive midfield masterclass Claude Makelele, the master of the position, would surely be proud of.
But the art of Fernando’s craft wasn’t what City have been missing most. No, it’s the bite the South American terrier put back into the mix that really made the difference.
Veloso may not have felt the gnashing of teeth with four minutes of normal time remaining. But it’s a good bet his own teeth were set firm in pain when Fernando crunched through the back of him to take ball and man, a robust refrain to any slim hopes Kyiv had of actually making a comeback.
It was a seminal moment in the game, but also one of many thumps and lumps dished out by the Brazilian’s brawn and physics-defying extending limbs.
Aggression hasn’t been a watchword of City during most of Pellegrini’s tenure, particularly this season. But it’s essential to the balancing act of winning.
Pellegrini knows the value of this type of player. He knew it when he signed Fernando for around £12 million in 2014, a relative snip for a player this useful.
Fernando’s usefulness was forgotten too often before the trip to the Ukraine. But Pellegrini didn’t need a pair of high-profile league defeats and a tricky trip in the European Cup to force his hand and jar his memory.
Instead, all he had to do was think back to his best Villarreal teams and the essential role played by Marcos Senna.
He was the Yellow Submarine’s immovable defence mechanism, a player smart enough to track free runners down and rugged enough to dole out a beating when he caught them.
Fernando can be that player in City’s bid for three trophies. After a blip, Pellegrini’s squad has its edge back, and it’s all thanks to the angry man in the middle.