Fernandinho believes his best football is still ahead of him despite hearing his current form hailed as “incredible” by manager Pep Guardiola.
Manchester City boss Guardiola lavished praise on the Brazilian midfielder after an influential, goalscoring performance in the champions’ 5-0 Premier League demolition of Burnley on Saturday.
“Fernandinho made an extraordinary performance,” Guardiola said. “He was incredible, one of the best performances of the season and we’re delighted. He is a key player for us.”
Fernandinho was flattered by the compliments but will keep on striving to improve.
“It’s good to hear something like this about you, especially when it comes from Pep,” said the 33-year-old.
“He’s a special guy, a special manager and I’m so pleased for that, especially after my performance, the result was a huge step for us to grow in the competition.
“To keep on top of the table and scoring goals like this could maybe make the difference at the end of the season.”
Fernandinho feels the same goes for the team, who have started their title defence strongly with 23 points from their opening nine games.
“I hope that we can improve more now because we cannot stop now,” he said. “We are just at the beginning of the season.
“We have a long season ahead and I think from now until the end of the season we have to improve and get better and better. Otherwise, there’s no point playing for City.”
One area where Fernandinho does feel he is at his peak is in terms of physical fitness and he partially puts that down to his recent exclusion from the Brazil national side.
Asked if he felt fitter than ever, Fernandinho said: “Yes – I don’t know (why). When you are out of international duty you can forget just a little bit about football, spend more time with your family and clean your mind and your body.
“I think it helps a lot. I had a rest last week. I’ve been in Dubai for a week and I have enough time to rest.”
Fernandinho joined City from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2013 and is relishing his return to Ukraine to face his former club in Kharkiv in the Champions League on Tuesday.
“Of course I had very good times there and know a lot of people,” said Fernandinho, who spent eight seasons with Shakhtar. “I like them so much and have a lot of respect for them.
Pep Guardiola feels Manchester City still lack “something special” when it comes to Champions League football.
The City manager insists he and his players are striving to succeed on the European stage but, despite dominating at home, he cannot feel the sparkle that pushed him towards glory at Barcelona.
Guardiola, who guided Barca to two Champions League titles and also reached the semi-finals three times in charge of Bayern Munich, has suggested fans City need to show greater appetite.
He said: “In this competition you need something special, and still I don’t feel it. I saw last season we are still not ready to win it. That’s what I feel.
“That doesn’t mean we are not going to try but to win this competition it’s not enough just to have desire, or wanting to win. You have to have many circumstances, have experience and still we don’t have enough in some moments.
“That’s not enough that the manager wants to win it, it’s not just the players. You have to have the desire – the club, chairman, owner, the fans, everyone has to push to be closer, to achieve the next stages. When it happens, everyone will feel it.”
Guardiola was speaking as the Premier League winners arrived in Kharkiv for their Group F encounter against Shakhtar Donetsk in the Metalist Stadium on Tuesday.
His sentiments are familiar as, throughout his tenure at City, he has referred to the club’s lack of European pedigree when discussing their Champions League
The apparent lukewarm attitude of supporters towards the competition is also something he struggles to comprehend, given his past experiences.
City fans have been slow to take to the competition and this has been exacerbated by an antipathy towards organisers UEFA, which sees them routinely boo the Champions League anthem.
Guardiola said: “It’s one important thing to win this kind of title, you have to be pushed, not just by the manager, by everyone surrounding Manchester City that we have to win it. And still we don’t have that feeling – the feeling that the fans are pushing that we have to win the Champions League.”
City will officially have 825 supporters behind them in Kharkiv, Shakhtar’s adoptive home and a venue where they lost season.
That encounter in December was City’s first loss of the season in any competiton but it came after they had already secured their place in the last 16.
In the wake of Real Madrid’s home defeat against Levante, it’s only logical to ask whether Julen Lopetegui has already reached the end of the road as Los Blancos boss.
The situation, for sure, is looking dire. Consecutive defeats against teams the calibre of Levante, Alaves and CSKA Moscow, shortly after a horrendous thrashing at Sevilla and a lifeless derby draw against Atletico, is simply an unacceptable run of results for Real Madrid.
Lopetegui is clearly on borrowed time, and the only doubt is whether all-powerful club president Florentino Perez should act right now or give Lopetegui one last chance to turn the situation around in next weekend’s Clasico trip to Barcelona.
If you take a step back from the emotion of the situation, it’s plain that firing Lopetegui now, barely two months into the season, would be an incredibly kneejerk reaction and extremely unfair on the former Spain coach.
Yes, the situation is bad. Very bad. But before condemning Lopetegui it is necessary to gain some context.
Over the course of the last 13 months, Madrid have now lost 14 games including defeats to lowly opposition such as Girona, Espanyol, Leganes, Alaves and Levante.
Most of those losses, of course, came under the management of Zinedine Zidane, and the fact that Madrid somehow managed to finish last season with a third consecutive Champions League title should not disguise the fact that this team has been bedevilled by serious flaws for a considerable amount of time.
Rather than judging Zidane’s final year on his European triumph, which needed highly fortuitous victories over Bayern Munich and Juventus, not to mention a freakish sequence of events in the final against Liverpool, a more accurate reflection of the state of the team he left behind is their third-place finish in La Liga, 17 points behind champions Barcelona and with the team’s lowest points tally since 2004.
This is the team that Lopetegui inherited…but not quite, because we cannot forget that the squad, which struggled so badly throughout much of the last 12 months that Zidane admitted he did not know how to keep them successful, was then weakened by the departure of one of the greatest goalscorers in the history of football.
So you take a team which finished third last season and then remove Cristiano Ronaldo without replacing him…is it any wonder that Lopetegui is encountering problems?
Of course, that doesn’t mean Madrid fans should meekly accept successive league losses against Alaves and Levante. For all its flaws, this squad should still be more than good enough to win games of that nature.
And it is not intended to denigrate the achievements of Zidane, whose magisterial man management skills played a major role in his team’s ability to gain positive results even when they played badly, and it’s reasonable to argue that the lack of aura emanating from the sidelines is a factor behind the current troubles.
But the weaknesses running throughout the team pre-date Lopetegui’s arrival, and he is not responsible for them. He has to fix them, though, and he has to do so quickly. But if he was the best person to lead Los Blancos through a transitional period in July, he should be given far more than three months and a dozen games to prove himself.
Whether that will happen is, of course, another matter. Another loss in next weekend’s Clasico would leave Madrid seven points behind Barcelona, and Perez could decide that desperate times call for desperate measures.
If Lopetegui is fired now, the manner in which he stabbed Spain in the back on the eve of the World Cup will ensure he does not attract much sympathy. And that will count against him when it comes to garnering support in the Spanish press, many of whom felt betrayed by his actions in the summer.
But the team’s weaknesses would not disappear with his departure, and a new coach would not necessarily fare any better. Real Madrid have big problems – and the identity of the manager is by no means the most serious.