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Bruno Fernandes’ instant impact is the boost that Solskjaer’s Man Utd needed

March 13, 2020

WE don’t know when we’ll see him play football again, but Bruno Fernandes made an incredible impact in his first six weeks as a Manchester United player. The 25-year-old made nine appearances up to Thursday night’s 5-0 win at LASK, a team he’d played against earlier this season with Sporting Lisbon.

Then, with Bruno captaining their side, Sporting won 2-1 at home a victory in which he scored one and made an assist. Suspended for the game in Austria in December, Sporting lost 3-0 without him. They would have finished top if they’d avoided defeat, but LASK won the group instead and were drawn with United.

Fernandes looks like a real player. At the start of this season, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a non-forward player arriving in the area when United attacked but the team were missing one. That person might have been Paul Pogba, but injury has made this term a right off for him.

Instead, it's Fernandes who gets closer to United’s forwards and looks to play the ball to them early. His first instinct ahead of United’s opening goal in Thursday's 5-0 win was to get the ball quickly to Odion Ighalo. The pass didn’t come off but it rebounded back to him for a second attempt, which he took. He’s relentless.

Further back, Fred (who gets on well with him off the field) looks to play the ball early to Fernandes who is becoming the most important link in the team. Difficult to mark, Fernandes has a freer role than the other players. Do defenders come out and mark him, leaving space behind? Whatever they do, United are creating more chances and having more shots on goal as a result of Fernandes’ instinct to shoot and attack which was noticeable even during the 0-0 draw against Wolves on his debut.

Ask the other United players about Fernandes and they’ll say that he demands the ball all over the pitch. “He’s a No. 10 who wants the ball and if you don’t give it to him you can be in trouble,” was Scott Mctominay’s verdict this week.

Solskjaer compares him to Paul Scholes and the ‘hard to believe it’s not Scholes’ song is a truer comparison with Fernandes than Michael Carrick for whom it was originally sung about. Shinji Kagawa said last week that when they played rondos in training and before a match, Scholes was the only one who never had to go in the middle because he didn’t lose the ball. Fernandes was put in the middle before United beat LASK 5-0, but not for long as he intercepted a mid air ball by flicking it up with his heel and controlling it.    

Fernandes has been United’s best player in almost every game that he’s played, but his ability to influence the match was limited when Everton surged back at United two weeks ago or Manchester City had a spell of dominance in last Sunday’s derby. Solskjaer feels that he’s two or three players away from having a team capable of winning the league. 

Most United fans have given up hope of  Pogba staying at the club. If there’s any ‘hope’ from fans around Pogba, it’s that he'll have his wish and leave, yet fans can be fickle in their opinions. Nobody wanted Wayne Rooney to stay in August 2013 but by the end of the month when he had stayed because United had refused to sell him, fans quickly changed their tune when they saw that Rooney was United’s best player.

Pogba was frustrated that United weren’t bringing in world class players – except they were, in name if not in how they played. But he can see that Fernandes is superb and Solskjaer said he had a “nice conversation” with Pogba this week. He also said the idea of Pogba and Fernandes playing together was “exciting” but we don’t know how true these words are.

If there’s a way back for Pogba then he has a great distance to go. Solskjaer spoke well of him a few days ago but has been doubtful of him and his intentions and actions for much of this season. United simply won’t let Pogba go cheaply, but where’s the market for him? Barça and Madrid face financial issues which the pandemic in Spain will hardly help. Besides, Pogba’s reputation has been damaged this season by not playing and being perceived to be a negative influence in the United dressing room. He’s hardly at the top of his game as Cristiano Ronaldo was when Real Madrid finally got their man. 

United need a player to keep Fernandes in the game when better teams are on top. Pogba has the quickest feet of any at Old Trafford, he’s the one who can receive the ball in the tightest on situations and play out of it with skill. Fred can break down play and intercept. The sooner that ball gets to Fernandes, the quicker he can unlock the opposing defence and make United’s counter attack even more effective.

In Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and even Ighalo, there are four very different but clinical finishers. United’s treble winners had four established forwards including Solskjaer, not that this United side is yet established. We don’t know when their next match will be, but United’s future is looking brighter than it did a few months ago. It’s a shame they’ve had to stop.