How Bruno Fernandes has started to turn Manchester United around

16.3.2020 22:14

In late January, Manchester United's brass finally addressed the dearth of attacking guile in Ole Gunnar Skolskjaer's midfield.

Bruno Fernandes' transfer from Sporting CP may eventually rise to €80 million after add-ons. It's a lot, but after back-to-back Premier League defeats in mid-January, the 25-year-old's arrival felt completely necessary. A team of United's pedigree could no longer rely on Jesse Lingard and Andreas Pereira for incisiveness and inventiveness week after week.

And through nine games, it seems Fernandes has smoothly handled the transition from domestic matches against Moreirense to tussles with the likes of Chelsea and Manchester City.

Here's a game-by-game analysis of those efforts - and an overall conclusion - beginning with Fernandes' debut against Wolverhampton Wanderers.

Feb. 1: 0-0 draw vs. Wolverhampton Wanderers

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Solskjaer didn't wait to start his expensive recruit. Fernandes veered toward being frantic as he desperately sought to influence the opening half against Wolves, but he paradoxically had more control while his energy waned in the second period. Fernandes recorded the second-most touches at Old Trafford and was his new side's main attacking threat, but overall, it was a poor team performance from Manchester United.

Minutes played 98
Goals 0
Shots on target 3
Assists 0
Key passes 0
Touches 111
Take-ons completed 0
Loss of possession 3

Rating: 7/10

Feb. 17: 2-0 win at Chelsea

Marc Atkins / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Fernandes was on the periphery of the action in the first half but soon helped wrap up a statement victory at Stamford Bridge. In the 64th minute, he seemed set to float a free-kick in the direction of Harry Maguire but deceived everybody when he fired at Willy Caballero's post. Maguire wasn't overlooked just two minutes later, as he powered in a header from a well-taken Fernandes corner. The Portuguese playmaker was given a rousing reception by the away end when he was substituted in injury time.

Minutes played 95
Goals 0
Shots on target 0
Assists 1
Key passes 3
Touches 54
Take-ons completed 0
Loss of possession 3

Rating: 7/10

Feb. 20: 1-1 draw at Club Brugge

Soccrates Images / Getty Images Sport / Getty

It doesn't feel fair to rate a player on 15 minutes' worth of work and 20 touches, but Fernandes still crammed in more shots (four) during that spell than any of his teammates mustered throughout the whole match. His introduction off the bench lifted his colleagues, as he cropped up in all areas of the park and attempted to drive his team to an undeserved win in the Belgian capital. By this time, Fernandes' progressive passing was already making a considerable difference in United's attack.

Minutes played 15
Goals 0
Shots on target 0
Assists 0
Key passes 0
Touches 20
Take-ons completed 0
Loss of possession 0

Rating: N/A

Feb. 23: 3-0 win vs. Watford

Simon Stacpoole/Offside / Offside / Getty

Fernandes ensured United stayed within reach of the Champions League places with a man-of-the-match performance against lowly Watford. He scored a penalty and thrilled the locals with his directness, while his mere presence seemed to raise the performances of those around him; for instance, Anthony Martial followed Fernandes' successful penalty with a delightful chip. "You can see the supporters, they're used to players with that personality, mentality, and quality, so he's been a big plus," Solskjaer said afterward of his January signing.

Minutes played 96
Goals 1
Shots on target 1
Assists 1
Key passes 4
Touches 90
Take-ons completed 3
Loss of possession 5

Rating: 8/10

Feb. 27: 5-0 win vs. Club Brugge

Jan Kruger - UEFA / UEFA / Getty

If he wasn't substituted to save his legs for the following match against Everton, Fernandes would've been closer to a 10/10 rating here. What promised to be a close match was practically over after 22 minutes when Simon Deli was sent off for an inexcusable handball, but by then, Fernandes had already exerted his influence with two shots and one take-on while roaming freely around the pitch. His goal was his second successful penalty inside a week.

Minutes played 69
Goals 1
Shots on target 3
Assists 0
Key passes 3
Touches 75
Take-ons completed 0
Loss of possession 1

Rating: 8/10

March 1: 1-1 draw at Everton

PAUL ELLIS / AFP / Getty

It was already clear that Fernandes was happy with being United's main man. He was always asking for the ball, was trying things his teammates wouldn't, and, most crucially, was helping his side get results that were harder to come by before his arrival. He scored again in this game on a bouncing effort from outside the area that Jordan Pickford should've saved. "Fernandes has already transformed his new team into a far more urgent proposition and Solskjaer must wish he had arrived earlier," The Guardian's Paul Wilson wrote of the tireless midfielder.

Minutes played 99
Goals 1
Shots on target 3
Assists 0
Key passes 1
Touches 93
Take-ons completed 2
Loss of possession 7

Rating: 8/10

March 5: 3-0 win at Derby County

Andrew Kearns - CameraSport / CameraSport / Getty

Like his debut at the start of February, Fernandes seemed too keen to please and was guilty of impatience in the East Midlands - an enthusiasm perhaps triggered by the presence of United legend Wayne Rooney in a Derby shirt. But Fernandes was still a constant menace, swaggering in his role at the tip of United's midfield and dabbing the odd reverse pass to draw purrs from the traveling support.

Minutes played 71
Goals 0
Shots on target 0
Assists 0
Key passes 4
Touches 77
Take-ons completed 1
Loss of possession 3

Rating: 7/10

March 8: 2-0 win vs. Manchester City

Ashley Donelon / Manchester United / Getty

By his recent lofty standards, Fernandes was quiet in the Manchester derby as City restricted him to only 40 touches. He could've scored after 28 minutes when he trotted undetected to the edge of the 18-yard box for what would've been a glorious chance, but Martial ignored a pass to Fernandes and instead wastefully hit a tame effort straight at Ederson. However, Fernandes didn't hold a grudge and created the opener minutes later with an intelligent chipped free-kick over the City rearguard and into Martial's path.

Minutes played 91
Goals 0
Shots on target 0
Assists 1
Key passes 3
Touches 40
Take-ons completed 0
Loss of possession 2

Rating: 7/10

March 12: 5-0 win at LASK

Matthew Peters / Manchester United / Getty

The imagination and technique that Fernandes offers behind United's attack were both summed up beautifully by his outside-of-the-boot pass that preceded Odion Ighalo's excellent opener. Fernandes was a leader once again; he demanded the ball and conducted the movement of others in LASK's empty stadium, inspiring a result that will give Solskjaer an opportunity to rest players when the second leg of the Europa League tie is eventually contested in England.

Minutes played 80
Goals 0
Shots on target 2
Assists 1
Key passes 6
Touches 82
Take-ons completed 1
Loss of possession 5

Rating: 8/10

How Fernandes has fared overall through 9 games

Manchester United / Manchester United / Getty

Although Solskjaer had tried to instill a throwback, swashbuckling style of play after taking the reins in December 2018, Manchester United still lacked penetration when venturing forward. The likes of Marcus Rashford had improved under the Norwegian manager, but the young forward's rate of 14 goals in 22 Premier League appearances was in spite of the often disappointing service from midfield.

Then Fernandes brought direction to the team. He leads his squad in almost every attacking category since joining the club, including shots on target, chances created, and passes into the final third. Memories of the sideways passing and tepid tempo from the Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho reigns are mercifully fading.

Football's break during the coronavirus crisis is obviously needed, but the timing is terrible for Manchester United. Fernandes had been fueling the club's increasingly convincing pursuit of the Premier League's Champions League places, and maybe even silverware in the FA Cup and Europa League. Now this season, and indeed the following campaign, is shrouded in doubt.

Minutes played 714
Goals per 90 mins 0.38
Shots on target per 90 mins 1.51
Assists per 90 mins 0.50
Key passes per 90 mins 3.03
Touches per 90 mins 80.92
Take-ons completed per 90 mins 0.88
Loss of possession per 90 mins 3.66

Rating: 7.5/10

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