Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United’s most influential player. He was United’s best player in August and continues to perform exceedingly well.
He is Premier League’s best creator with 26 key passes in 8 games (WhoScored). The four Premier League wins for United this season (Brighton, Newcastle, Everton, and West Brom) featured either a Fernandes goal or a Fernandes assist. It speaks volumes of his brilliance at Old Trafford but raises an alarming fact:
United are only good when Fernandes performs. When he can’t influence the game, United look hopeless.
Let’s take the game against Arsenal as our example. Arsenal pressurises their opposition forwards aggressively and Mikel Arteta wants his defenders to play an active role in the build-up. They take high risks and look to dominate their opposition.
United set up a diamond midfield against the Gunners and looked to play from the middle (via Fernandes). The Portuguese talisman is crucial to supplying the balls forward.
Arsenal blocked all the channels and passing lanes routed towards Fernandes. He wasn’t bad – he was just not getting involved. He touched the ball 51 times before getting substituted around the 75-minute mark. Comparatively, he completed 110, 90, 80, and 101 touches against Newcastle, Chelsea, Everton, and West Brom respectively (stats from SofaScore).
In all the games where United dominated and created chances, Fernandes was heavily involved. Against Arsenal, Fernandes was blocked out and so were United.
Solskjaer’s one-dimensional approach with Fernandes is out in the public. Opposition teams could easily shut the supplies to him. The season is long and Red Devils need alternative strategies – someone who can take the pressure off him.
Who can help Fernandes?
Paul Pogba is the second-best natural creator in the team. However, his inconsistency is a major issue. It makes him unreliable. Juan Mata is technically sound but his decision-making ability has never been worse, and he’s not the fastest and does not track back well. Jesse Lingard is an option but he’s out of form (and arguably not of the standard required at United).
The only answer remains is including Donny Van de Beek in the mix. The Dutch international arrived in England in the summer and is below Pogba in the pecking order. While Pogba has a better reputation than Van De Beek, the former Ajax midfielder could be better than him.
Van de Beek’s shrewd movement and ability to create space complements Fernandes’ high risk-high reward passes. The former Ajax star is an active runner and tracks back too.
Fernandes sitting on top of Fred and Scott McTominay is a good setup but as aforementioned, United are too predictable. Van de Beek’s inclusion provides better alternatives and brings unpredictability in the buildup.
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