When this season finally draws to a close, there should be little doubt of Bruno Fernandes’ contribution to the Manchester United cause.
The Portuguese maestro carried the team, particularly in the first half of the season, and he is likely to get the deserved nod as United’s player of the year.
Some fans may make a good argument that Luke Shaw should be considered for the Sir Matt Busby Award, but Fernandes is the likely winner.
However, Fernandes’ form has certainly tailed off in recent weeks. It’s not that he has been poor, but he hasn’t been able to affect games with the same regularity.
Before his brace and pair of assists against Roma in the Europa League semi-final first leg, Fernandes had just one goal (a penalty) and an assist in the previous 11 matches.
While statistics can be misleading, and Fernandes wasn’t bought for goals and assists alone, his general play has been frustrating.
You can see the frustration on his face when things don’t come off the way he intended. In a strange way, he resembles Wayne Rooney in his later years at United.
Fernandes’ body language isn’t great
They are different types of players, of course. Rooney often tried to force the issue when things weren’t going his way, dropping deeper and trying to make things happen.
Rooney would sometimes cut a forlorn figure, and you can see similar body language from Fernandes at the moment.
For now, United top the list of the most successful English clubs in history with 66 trophies. There are many reasons for this success, as readers of Red Rants know.
But one reason that is overlooked in the Premier League era is the smart use of squad players down the years.
For every Cantona, Ronaldo and Keane that added to United’s glory, there was Parks O’Shea, Fortune and Brown who were able to pitch in and do their bit when needed.
The point we are making is that Fernandes is tired. The Europa League semi-final appearance was his 74th game for United.
Even if he closes out this season in good form – and the Roma game was probably his best performance in 2021 – fans should be worried about his overuse.
That’s an incredible amount of matches for a player who has been at the club for just over a year.
United have a minimum of seven games left this season – eight if they make the Europa League Final as expected.
That’s 80-odd games for Fernandes, coming without the opportunity for a proper pre-season break last summer.
His tally doesn’t take into consideration the 28 games Fernandes played for Sporting Lisbon in the half season before joining United, nor his appearances for Portugal.
Euros occur right after the end of the season
There won’t be much chance for Fernandes to rest between now and the end of the season.
But the opportunity should have been taken to rest him earlier – and there were chances in the FA Cup and Carabao Cup, and in several Europa League games.
But respite won’t come at the end of the season. Portugal’s first warm-up match for Euro 2020 will come on June 4 – 13 days after the Premier League’s final day, and nine days after the Europa League final.
There is around a month between the end of Euro 2020, and the start of the new Premier League campaign (August 14).
In short, there is scant time to give the player a break and then build him up again in pre-season.
So, what happens next? Will Fernandes get a break, or at least see his workload drop a bit next season? It’s hard to say.
The player obviously wants to be involved – that, too, you can see from his body language.
But unless the manager gets a little more from Donny van de Beek, or new signings arrive, you would have to think that Fernandes will play more than the average number of games.
You have to question – is that the best way to use the Portuguese maestro?