The football weekend in a five-sentence executive summary: Barcelona erased a two-goal deficit at the death against Sevilla to remain unbeaten in La Liga. Tottenham won at Stamford Bridge for the first time in 28 years. Zlatan arrived in MLS in loud fashion with a substitute brace to help overcome a three-goal deficit in the first Los Angeles derby. Bayern Munich hung a 6-0 embarrassment on rivals Borussia Dortmund to further solidify the Bundesliga. Kylian Mbappe helped Paris Saint-Germain to France’s Coupe de la Ligue silverware over his old club by setting up all three goals either by assisting or winning a penalty.
It was the weekend many of us hoped for coming out of the international break. What might have been buried in all that headline-grabbing entertainment was a more methodical passing performance from a comparatively inconspicuous holding midfielder.
We know Fernandinho as Manchester City’s central anchor playing behind PFA Player of the Year contender Kevin De Bruyne and underappreciated David Silva. He also can now be known for completing more passes than the team he faced last weekend. In City’s 3-1 win at Goodison Park on Saturday, Fernandinho’s 166 successful passes outdid Everton by 24. It was part of a match in which the away team held the ball for 2,755.5 seconds to the home side’s 806.4. That works out to an impressive 77.4 percent. You may have seen it reported after the match as more than 80 percent, but those are estimates based on passing ratios, whereas STATS’ event data is based on actual duration for more accurate possession breakdowns. If we relied on passing ratios, we’d have City’s possession wrong by nearly five percent at 82.1.
Regardless, it was still the highest away possession percentage by any club since Guardiola arrived in England, topping his own team’s performance at Newcastle earlier this season (74.6 percent). City have seven of the top 10 away possession marks since the start of 2016/17, Liverpool have two and Tottenham have one.
What might be more indicative of just how ball dominant Manchester City have been this season is the fact that Fernandinho’s performance only narrowly surpassed that of a teammate from earlier this season – a teammate who’s occasionally overlooked because of just how talented City’s midfield is. Ilkay Gündogan had 165 successful passes from 175 possessions with five bad passes against Chelsea in City’s 1-0 home win on March 4.
It’s also of note that De Bruyne, had he played the full 90 minutes against Everton, might have been right up there with Fernandinho. KDB had 127 successful passes in 77 minutes, so his 148 on a per-90 basis were also above the Toffees.
As for Premier League players to outpass opponents in Pep Guardiola’s two seasons in Manchester, it’s an easy count: Fernandinho on Saturday and teammate Nicolás Otamendi against Huddersfield Town (118 to 110) in Round 13. No one did it last season. Surprisingly, the next closest to pulling it off was Huddersfield’s Jonathan Hogg a few weeks back against Swansea City with 115 successful to the Swans’ 118.
Here’s a team and individual assessment of what happened this weekend while bringing in Everton defensive midfielder Morgan Schneiderlin for the sake of positional comparison:
The sheer sum of events and passes are impressive. But it might be more interesting to consider how this changed from the clubs’ 1-1 draw at the Etihad back on Aug. 21. Fernandinho played the whole match and had 73 possessions with 61 successful passes and eight bad passes. No player in that match had more than Otamendi’s 89 possessions and 66 successful passes.
On a team level, City had 678 possessions, 475 successful passes and 93 bad passes compared to Everton’s 424, 234 and 110. On paper, it looks as if the home match for City occurred in March rather than August, but that wasn’t the case.
Everton were managed by Ronald Koeman at the time before his October sacking, and that draw got Koeman’s Everton their fifth point in three matches against Guardiola’s City. Sam Allardyce took over roughly a month after Koeman was sacked, so the disparity we’re seeing here might be more about tactics than opponents. Nine of City’s starting XI were present back in August with no changes in the middle (Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Silva). Seven of Everton’s players started both matches, so these were by no means strikingly different squads. Yes, playmaker Gylfi Sigurdsson wasn’t in the Everton team because of injury this weekend, but he only played 29 minutes as a substitute in the first meeting.
Back to what Fernandinho did Saturday and putting it into better Premier League context. Unsurprisingly, six of the top-10 single-match successful passing totals by individuals over the past two seasons have been City players. But it’s interesting that only one of the top 10 in that span came in 2016/17. Here are the 10 highest totals for successful passes in the Premier League since the start of 2016/17:
Let’s now look at the 10 lowest team totals in that same span. Surprise, surprise – five of the top nine were against City, and notice that the Everton match from this past weekend doesn’t even make this list:
One of the more surprising team totals this season that Fernandinho surpassed on his own Saturday: Manchester United completed just 164 successful passes on Dec. 2 at Arsenal. You can argue that had a great deal to do with game context because United were up 2-0 on 11 minutes, but before making that argument, let’s remember that this weekend, City had the same lead on 12 minutes and both matches ended 3-1.
In the United-Arsenal match, Jose Mourinho’s leading passer was Nemanja Matić with 45 possessions, 23 successful passes and 14 bad passes – so a positional equal with 123 fewer successful connections than Fernandinho in nearly identical game context. How’s that for a numerical representation of the difference in tactics between the two Manchester bosses?