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Why Bruno Fernandes’ new Manchester United role may only work short-term



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Credit: IMAGO / Sportimage

In today’s game, the shirt number on the back hardly epitomises the profile of a player.

Manchester United’s No. 8 Bruno Fernandes has operated in a deeper “number six” position in recent matches, unusual from his more traditional number 10 role, where he is associated with goals, assists, and chance creation.

However, Erik ten Hag’s recent decision of seeing Fernandes as the deep-lying playmaker in his team has shown a different side to the Portugal international, though Fernandes’ creative ability has still stood out in matches against Brentford and Everton.

Read More: Erik ten Hag shuts down old Christian Eriksen ‘disrespect’ claim

While Casemiro was serving a four-match ban having been sent off against Southampton at Old Trafford in March, Fernandes has acted as the deepest in a midfield three alongside Scott McTominay and loanee Marcel Sabitzer.

In United’s 1-0 win last week against Thomas Frank’s Brentford side, Fernandes completed the most final third passes on the pitch, having also created the most chances. He boasted 117 touches just in the first half against Everton, having still created two big chances.

Against opposition who favour a more pragmatic approach, a deeper midfield position may be more suitable to Fernandes as he is seen to enjoy more of the ball, given more time and simplifying his game, all while still picking out the defence-stretching runs of wingers Antony and Marcus Rashford.

In the game against Everton, Fernandes completed eight long balls, notably one beautiful pass from deep picking out Rashford, who failed to net past England teammate Jordan Pickford.

It was after the 2-0 win against the Toffees where Fernandes was given the Premier League Man of the Match award, and post-match, Ten Hag said: “We miss Casemiro, we miss Eriksen, so we have to find a balance in the middle, and I think Bruno is doing a good job over there.”

Post-Brentford, the Dutchman felt Fernandes was “the best player on the pitch.” 

In his more natural attacking midfield role, United’s captain in absence of Harry Maguire is at times somewhat frustrating, looking for the final killer ball too often, leading to turnovers against United, but his goal and assist numbers speak for themselves.

The downside to a deeper Fernandes

Although Fernandes has been excellent in United’s two recent games, Ten Hag’s experiment didn’t pay off in the defeat at St James’ Park after returning from the international break.

In games against teams who’d prefer to press high up the pitch, as Newcastle do, Fernandes struggled due to his lack of press resistance.

Ball carrying is far the former Sporting Lisbon man’s best attribute, hence Ten Hag’s obsession with Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong, who averages 3.02 progressive carries per match – higher than Fernandes’ 2.12.

This isn’t to say Fernandes will be replaced in the short-term future. It stresses the gaps Ten Hag currently has in his side. There isn’t a similar profile in the current United squad to cover for Casemiro in his absence.

United are also in need of a box-to-box midfielder to allow Fernandes to flourish again higher up the pitch. One who excels in ball winning and carrying as well as press resistance.

The return of Eriksen and Casemiro will help, though neither are of the profile of De Jong, who United seemed hellbent on signing last summer.

Defensively, as one would expect for an attacking player, Fernandes’ stats aren’t great, averaging less than an interception per 90, and just under two tackles per game.

It’s Fernandes’ willingness that allows him to get around the pitch, though quality and attributes are at the forefront of football.

As per an article from The Athletic written on March 17, Fernandes had played the most football from any player in Europe’s top five leagues this season.

On a number of occasions, he has also played on the wing, showing his versatility and will to play wherever needed for the team.

In United’s Europa League quarter-final first leg against Sevilla on Thursday, should Fernandes be partnered with the returning Eriksen and Casemiro, he would be expected to take up a position ahead of the duo. 

Written by Aadam Haladh.