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Bruno Fernandes: The man to take Manchester United back to the top?

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Bruno Fernandes is a 26-year-old Portuguese midfielder formally of Sporting Lisbon who plays as the ‘10’ or attacking midfielder for Manchester United. He joined United in January of 2020 for a fee of £47 million, although due to addons it could rise to £67.6 million. At the time of Fernandes’ signing, United were in a dire situation having just lost to Burnley 2-0 at home.

United were six points adrift off top four and fourteen points behind Leicester in third. Furthermore, to make matters worse, United were only four points above Newcastle in 14th place. Therefore, United were in a dreadful position, the team looked vulnerable every game, the fans had lost faith and the owners looked close to following suit. But the signing of Fernandes in January changed everything…

United were in major need of some creativity, Andreas Pereira was not living up-to expectations, failing to find pockets of space and create chances for the forwards. United were very stale, predictable and the once fortress of Old Trafford was becoming a lottery, any result could happen. Furthermore, the whole dynamic with the team was low, the squad needed fresh impetus, someone new around the training ground, someone to spark life into the team, to turn the season around.

When Fernandes joined, he had expectations due to the large fee of £47 million, but the results he brought far exceeded this. His first match saw him win man of the match against Wolves at home in a disappointing 0-0 draw. After this, his ability was abundantly clear; he had leadership qualities to bring the best out of others,  his eye for a pass mixed with the incredible ability to weight each pass perfectly into the path of his teammates, was a simple sounding yet highly effective feature which opened up opposition defences.

In games which United struggled to break teams down, Fernandes had the ability to find those tiny gaps, and even singlehandedly win games for United. He also has great long-distance shooting ability, as seen with his long-range effort past England number one Jordan Pickford, which then leaves defenders in two minds whether to press him to stop the longshot, but leaving inevitable spaces behind them, and with his vision and accuracy he could find, or stand off him making sure the defence is compact and tight, with no space to slip any forwards in, but leaving them exposed to a potential deadly longshot.

As the last half of the season progressed, United with Fernandes started rising up the table, picking up big results, in particular a 2-0 derby day win against Manchester City, in which Fernandes created a lovely assist with a perfectly dinked ball into Martial who slotted it home to give United a 1-0 lead before Scott McTominay cemented United’s win with a sublime longshot into an open net with Ederson stranded. This was the last time Fernandes and the team played in front of 75,000 at Old Trafford again.

But with the relaxing of guidelines for the upcoming season, Fernandes will be playing with 75,000 fans shouting his name which could take his game to the next level. Against all odds, Fernandes managed to take United into the top four finishing third with the final day win against Leicester City. Unfortunately, in the Europa league, United fell to the eventual winners Sevilla in an action-packed game in which United failed to take their chances and were punished. United ended the season with Champions League football but no trophies; so, was it really a success? 

Onto his second season, Fernandes was the established creator in the team, with a lot of United’s creativity solely reliant on him. He managed 18 goals and 12 assists in 37 games in the league, and five goals in the Europa League. Throughout the season, Fernandes scored 28 goals which surpassed Frank Lampard’s record with 27 as well as racking up 17 assists. Individually, Fernandes had a great season peaking in the first half and potential fatigue due to United’s reliance on him hindering him in the second half.

However, at a club like United success is defined by trophies and United fell out of the Champions League after a disappointing defeat to RB Leipzig which sent them down to the Europa League. United then looked favourites to win it, but due to a valiant stand from Villarreal saw United lose on penalties in the final.

In the FA Cup, United bowed out to Leicester City in a disappointing defeat but did finish second in the league which was progress from third the year before, and the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign that United had managed to secure back-to-back Champions League football. Therefore, as a result, I feel Fernandes himself has had a very successful season, but the lack of trophies means it’s not a successful season overall, as success at Manchester United is only met through trophies and United failed to achieve this. 

One cause of dispute with Fernandes is his overall impact on games, especially against the so called ‘Big Six.’ He has undoubted ability to get goals and assists but some doubt his overall impact as he can be susceptible to trying the ‘miracle ball’ until it works. Fernandes has struggled in the big games in the league this season failing to get many goal contributions against these teams. However, this maybe due to the approach United have taken against the bigger clubs, as rather than trying to dictate and control the tempo they have sat off and tried using a counter attacking approach.

This contrast Fernandes’ style as he likes to have ball to feet looking to find the gaps, but with counter attacking the game can pass him by or he can attempt the ‘miracle ball’ and give possession away in desperation due to the lack of ball as they are sitting back. For all the stick Fernandes gets about his involvement in the big games, I feel he is subject to unnecessary criticism from rival fans as they envy him as a player and would love to have someone like him in their team.

This means that he is subject to any criticism possible which overlooks his actual performances. He has played well in big games but his flattering statistics almost hinder the public outlook of him as if he doesn’t get a goal contribution then his performance is judged as bad and so the belief Fernandes doesn’t turn up in big games is a myth. However, he’s not perfect, and I feel to take his game further Fernandes should sometimes look to play the simpler pass to retain possession rather then playing the ‘miracle ball’ as it can give away unnecessary possession. 

Overall, I feel Fernandes has had a major impact on this Manchester United team instilling belief in the players and providing that creative spark that has been lacking at United for years. He’s brought United back-to-back Champions League football, with unbelievable goal contributions; but to take his impact further and assure his spell at United is successful, I feel he must lead United to silverware, and if he could bring back a Premier League title or the Champions League trophy, he could cement himself as a United great.

Written by Ethan Bents

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