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Graham Ruthven: Kalvin Phillips would be the perfect replacement for Fernandinho at Man City

June 14, 2022

Pep Guardiola knows how to build a beautiful football team. The Catalan coach is renowned for his particular brand of free-flowing, attack-minded football, but there is always a certain pragmatism that underpins everything. Sergio Busquets embodied this at Barcelona and Fernandinho has done the same during Guardiola’s time at Manchester City.

The issue for City is Fernandinho departed the Etihad Stadium at the end of the 2021/22 season, leaving a void in Guardiola’s squad. Rodri might have replaced the Brazilian in the Premier League champions’ strongest XI since joining in 2019, but a new midfield anchor is still required to bring Manchester City back up to full strength.

Kalvin Phillips has been widely mentioned as a potential target with recent reports stating the England international is City’s number one target following the capture of Erling Haaland. Phillips could cost as much as £60m this summer, but there’s good reason to believe the 26-year-old is exactly what Guardiola needs.

MAN CITY SEASON SPECIALS

Defensively, Phillips is among the sharpest in his position. He has averaged 3.67 tackles per 90 minutes in the Premier League over the last 12 months, placing him in the 97th percentile for central midfielders. On top of this, Phillips is in the 99th percentile (8.4 per 90 minutes) for successful pressures and the 84th percentile (2.71 per 90 minutes) for dribblers contested.

At the base of the Manchester City midfield, Phillips would be a formidable barrier to opposition teams much like Fernandinho was. He would give the likes of Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden the protection and structure they need to play their best football higher up the pitch. It’s easy to see why Phillips is so high on City’s shopping list.

There is, however, much more to Phillips’ game than just tackles and pressures. The 26-year-old is technically exceptional on the ball, further underlining his suitability as a Guardiola player. In the modern game, it’s no longer enough for a central midfielder, even one in the anchor role, to rely on their physicality.

It’s not uncommon for Phillips to carry the ball up the pitch, creating space and pockets of space for teammates to exploit – see how Raheem Sterling scored England’s opening goal of Euro 2020 following a surging Phillips run from deep. When the opportunity to do is there, Phillips knows when to break the lines in possession.

Of course, Phillips’ injury record is a factor that might limit how much Manchester City are willing to pay for the Leeds United midfielder (Phillips was only fit enough to start 18 Premier League fixtures last season), but the upside of signing a player so perfect for Guardiola’s system and approach is obvious.

Many saw last summer’s club-record signing of Jack Grealish as unnecessary for a team that was already strong in that area of the pitch. This summer, though, there appears to be a greater method to City’s transfer strategy. The signing of Haaland filled a hole in Guardiola’s squad and Phillips would patch up another one.