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Guardiola’s Fernandinho Replacement – Saul or Rodri?

Josep "Pep" Guardiola Sala

Fernandinho has proven to be one of Manchester City’s most influential players during Guardiola’s reign in Manchester. Much has been made of the lack of a capable understudy for the Brazilian, with Ilkay Gundogan, John Stones and Fabian Delph all tasked with filling in for Fernandinho whilst he has been unavailable this season; none of these whom are natural holding midfielders. The position remains one of the only holes in the squad that Guardiola is yet to fill.

Fernandinho is now 33 years of age and his contract is due to expire in the Summer of 2020. Therefore, a defensive midfielder will surely be top of Guardiola’s shortlist in the coming summer to provide one season of transition. Of the names being linked as potential recruits for the Citizens over the summer, two names have repeatedly cropped up; Saul Niguez and Rodri.

Both players are Spanish central midfielders who currently feature for Diego Simeone’s Atletico Madrid. With the players having many similarities, which would represent the most viable option for the Manchester side?

Rodri is the younger of the two players at 22 years of age and so is the most inexperienced option of the two. Rodri broke into the first team at Villareal in the 16/17 season, where he featured regularly for the club in both La Liga and the Europa League before joining Atletico Madrid for the 18/19 season. Despite this being Rodri’s first season at Atletico, he has been a consistent feature in the club’s first team, featuring regularly in La Liga and appearing in all 8 of Atletico’s Champions League games this season.

Saul has spent his entire career at Atletico Madrid, except for a season-long loan to Rayo Vallencano for the 13/14 season where he was given his first taste of regular La Liga football. Since then, he has been a regular for Atletico Madrid in both domestic and European competition. At 24 years old, Saul is only just entering his peak years.

Both players are also Spanish internationals, with Rodri appearing 6 times and Saul appearing 16 times. When considering these factors, Saul is currently valued at £35.34m whilst Rodri is valued at £19.04m. Whilst Rodri’s value is currently considerably lower than his teammate’s this is likely to grow significantly so long as he continues to feature for both his club and national side. Conversely, Saul’s value is also likely to continue to grow although this is unlikely to be extremely significant. Therefore, offers in the region of £40m would carry minimal levels of risk if Rodri continues to develop as expected.

Whilst Rodri fits the more traditional mould of a defensive midfielder, Saul has proven to be an extremely versatile player throughout his career. Naturally a central midfielder, he has also played on the left and right sides of midfield and filled in at left back and centre back. Therefore, Saul’s versatility would surely appeal to Guardiola who has used Fabian Delph in a similar range of positions.

However, one stumbling block in any deal is the interest of Manchester United. Saul’s name has also been circulated as a potential replacement for Ander Herrera on the other side of Manchester and as shown with the Alexis Sanchez deal, United have the financial power to attract world football’s biggest names from under their rival’s noses. This will surely drive up the market price for Saul and City have often demonstrated that they will not be held to ransom for any player.

Of the two player’s, Saul would also be the more likely player to make an immediate impact in City’s team due to his additional experience in both the league and Champions League. With Guardiola’s team requiring a suitable replacement by next season at the very latest, Saul’s additional experience and versatility will surely place him top of City’s shortlist.

However, the interest of Manchester United may make a deal for Saul unviable. In this case, Rodri would surely prove to be a capable replacement although he would have to adapt to Guardiola’s style of football in a very short amount of time. This has proven notoriously difficult, with players such as Raheem Sterling, Sergio Aguero, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte all being used sparing in their initial stages under Guardiola before becoming established first-team players.


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