There's always a first time - Fernandinho eyes Anfield win despite Man City's Champions League trials

By Sports Desk November 07, 2019

Fernandinho believes Manchester City showed the battling qualities they will need to end their Anfield hoodoo during the second half of Wednesday's eventful 1-1 Champions League draw against Atalanta.

Pep Guardiola's side led 1-0 at the interval thanks to Raheem Sterling's sublime seventh-minute opener and should have made their superiority weigh more heavily, with Gabriel Jesus dragging a dismal penalty wide.

But Ederson was withdrawn before the restart due to a thigh injury and substitute goalkeeper Claudio Bravo's first task was to pluck Mario Pasalic's emphatic 49th-minute header from his net.

City struggled to regain their earlier rhythm as Gian Piero Gasperino's men found a frenetic and effective tempo, and Bravo's outing got worse when he was sent off for charging out of his area to foul Josip Ilicic.

That meant Kyle Walker being introduced as an emergency keeper – the right-back's tentative save from Ruslan Malinovskiy's free-kick bringing chants of "England's number one" from the travelling supporters at San Siro.

City held out for a 1-1 draw that left them five points clear at the top of Group C, their progress to the last 16 virtually assured as attention turns towards Sunday's mouth-watering Premier League showdown with Liverpool.

Jurgen Klopp's league leaders are six points ahead of the reigning champions, who last won at Anfield in 2003.

"I think the main thing was the mentality of the guys," said Fernandinho, who was again deployed at centre-back. "In difficult situations like this we have to stick together and we did.

"This is important because we are building a team to be champions and sometimes to be champions you have to play games like this.

"Now it is good because everybody is understanding what we are building."

Guardiola reported Ederson's thigh injury was "not big" but he is unsure whether his influential number one will be available to face Liverpool.

Irrespective of whether his fellow Brazil international recovers in time, Fernandinho feels City will try to end 16-and-a-half years of Merseyside frustration with confidence.

"The mentality is always try to win the game," he added.

"There's always a first time in life, no? We are searching for this first time to win at Anfield. I am confident we can go there and try to win the game.

"Of course, we will see with Ederson's situation. We are going to train and the medical staff are going to check him and we are going to see if he will be fit or not for Sunday."

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    Liverpool were held to a 2-2 draw by Shrewsbury at the New Meadow on Sunday, meaning the League One side will play a lucrative replay at Anfield next week.

    But that match is due to fall within the Premier League's inaugural mid-season break, when Klopp had promised his senior players they would be afforded time off to recover before the campaign's final push.

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    Speaking ahead of Wednesday's Premier League meeting with West Ham, Klopp launched a lengthy and impassioned defence of his plans.

    He said: "I have to make decisions based on the situation we are in, some people made other decisions before the season. Whoever it was – and okay, the FA tried to do something with moving games to midweek to decrease intensity – but it came out and whoever was involved, if someone from our club was involved and forgot to say no, I don't know exactly how it was discussed.

    "The situation ends up, we are given two weeks [off]. In the first moment I thought, okay, two weeks, but it was not clear which week you get, and then we started going a bit into it and then we saw if we get the second week we probably get a Champions League game in that week.

    "We cannot make then a week off and say there are two days to prepare for Atletico Madrid in this case, so the other week was the first week, for the Champions League teams it's the better week as there's no Champions League games.

    "And then it came up, 'Oh, there could be a potential [FA Cup] replay.' Because we plan in the long term, I cannot plan like this [at short notice], especially in a really decisive period of the season coming up, so I decided we will have a mid-season break, based on a letter [from the FA] that we got in April 2019 when we were asked to respect a mid-season break.

    "I know how it sounds now and I don't want to be in the middle of all discussions, I'm not a revolution guy or trying to show the whole world how strong I can be or whatever, it's not the reason. If people think that I'm lazy because I'm not here [for the match], I cannot change that.

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    "If we react now in the way we always react, like, 'We have to sort it somehow, we'll be here and find a way to do it,' then nothing will change. I think all people in football agree that something has to change, and people have to speak.

    "I don't know who was there [at the FA meeting to discuss the mid-season break], I know the FA said all the clubs agreed, but no sports-responsible people were there. There was not a manager or a sporting director there, that's what we need, that must change as well, otherwise next year we have exactly the same.

    "I made a decision and now it looks like people want something different from me, so I cannot do what all the people want. Could I be here for the game? Of course I could, but that's again a complete misunderstanding of managing and coaching.

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    The 34-year-old was seemingly set to depart in July, with his previous deal approaching its conclusion, but City have ensured he will be around for at least another season.

    An intelligent combative midfielder, Fernandinho joined City from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013 and has been a revelation, appearing in at least 29 Premier League matches in every campaign.

    He has remained a key figure this term, playing 20 of the champions' 24 top-flight games, filling in at centre-back for many of those due to City's defensive injury crisis.

    City are already set to lose David Silva this year, with the Spaniard previously confirming his plan to return to Spain to be closer to his family.

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    Senegal international Mane pulled up in the first half of Liverpool's 2-1 win at Wolves last Thursday with a hamstring complaint.

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    "He has a small muscle tear, which is serious enough to rule him out, but we've been a little bit lucky with the injury as well so it's not that serious. 

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