Fernandinho: Brazil past the perfect prep for Anfield cauldron
Midfielder relishing title decider and says City players experienced enough to deal with whatever Reds throw at them, says Jason Burt
Fernandinho breaks into a broad, rueful smile when asked whether he has ever experienced the hot dressing room, dry pitch and mile-long walk to the stadium that Steven Gerrard complained about after Liverpool's Premier League trip to West Ham last weekend.
"They have obviously never played in the Copa Libertadores," the Manchester City midfielder says of the Liverpool players and South America's fierce, attritional equivalent to the Champions League.
"When you play in the Copa Libertadores, if you go to Paraguay, Argentina and Ecuador, as you approach the stadium you get attacked from all sides with stones, sticks and posts. That's different."
Different indeed. City are braced for an intense atmosphere at Anfield today in what Fernandinho says is the club's most important game of the season, but there will be nothing like the level of threat or dirty tricks he felt during his time playing in Brazil for Atletico Paranaense between 2002 and 2005. At Anfield, it will be passionate, partisan, vocal and committed – but nothing more.
"If you play the Copa Libertadores, you get those kinds of things everywhere, in every country," the Brazilian says. "For example, in Bolivia, they put you up [in a hotel] on top of a remote hill and you spend three or four hours on the bus travelling to the city where you actually play the match.
"I only played one Libertadores cup game in Colombia and two or three days before there had been an earthquake there, so you can imagine what impact that had on the players' state of mind to have to play football in those situations. South America is like that more or less everywhere."
With Atletico Paranaense, one of Brazil's less fashionable clubs, Fernandinho actually reached the final of the competition in 2005, losing against Sao Paulo. That helped him earn his big move to Ukraine with Shakhtar Donetsk and then, ultimately, to City for £34m last summer.
But his tribulations also occurred domestically. "When I was in Brazil once, we went to play a game against Vasco da Gama in Rio de Janeiro," he recalls. The access to the stadium was a very tight road, just enough for a vehicle to go in, and we got a massive stone thrown at our bus.
"We were not allowed to warm up on the pitch – it was too dangerous. We had to warm up in a cement area that was a cinema or something like that. They did all sorts of tricks but we still played the game and won the match. It was a very important game for us. These kind of things happen and when they do they create more motivation in our group."
City's trip to Anfield today could be the Premier League title decider and there is a sense of relish from Fernandinho at the task that lies ahead – and how the Brazilian believes that hostile atmosphere will not affect City.
"What is important for us is that we are focused enough not to be affected by outside events," he says. "Our team is old enough, prepared enough and experienced enough to know how to deal with this situation. If you are properly prepared, you can block everything from the outside.
"Hopefully, it will not affect our performance. It's important to win this match. We have seven games left and if we win them all, we will be champions, for sure. If we beat Liverpool, we will leave one of our rivals behind us, so it is important."
Speaking to promote the EA Sports 2014 Fifa World Cup Brazil demo, Fernandinho says he is not surprised that Liverpool have mounted such an extraordinary title challenge: "I don't think it should be a surprise to anyone because they have very good players, in particular the forwards, and they have a very good team and their manager was able to set up a fantastic team. We have a strong defence, midfield and attack as well, so if we stop them coming close to our area, I'm sure we'll get the job done."
Fernandinho is acutely aware of the potent threat of Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge – with a remarkable 49 Premier League goals between them – so can City stop them? "There are a few words I like to use and they are, 'I hope so?'" he says.
To succeed, City will rely heavily on their own formidable partnership – the one forged by Fernandinho and Yaya Toure in the centre of midfield. They have featured together in all but six league games – with City dropping 10 points in those matches, including losses to Sunderland and Chelsea and draws with Stoke City and Norwich City.
Fernandinho's impressive, dynamic form has earned him an international recall ahead of the World Cup, and he could well form a cornerstone of his country's campaign.
If City go on to win the league, it will be a seventh title for Fernandinho in nine years, having helped Shakhtar become Ukrainian champions six times.
How would this one compare? "It would probably be even better," he says.
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