ENTER BRUNO FERNANDES: THE MAGICIAN TO BREAK UNITED’S MIDFIELD MONOTONY?
Manchester United entered the new decade on a spin, coming out of a tough English December with more points than anyone would’ve expected. But Arsenal, Wolves and then a Pep Guardiola masterclass on derby day exposed United’s midfield fragilities, yet again. Manchester United failed to win all the three opening games of 2020. The midfield duo of the ageing Nemanja Matić and Juan Mata failed to create chances, which resulted in just one goal in 270 minutes of football. With the limited creativity of Fred and Daniel James, the red side of Manchester could not register a single shot on target against a well-drilled Wolves side.
With fans and pundits screaming for a creative midfielder to be added to the United ranks for ages, the hierarchy has green lighted the arrival of Portuguese midfield maestro Bruno Fernandes. The former Sporting schemer was continually linked with a move to United and to nobody’s surprise, the fanbase were over the moon about the prospect of adding inventiveness in the middle of the park, something they’ve sorely lacked since Paul Pogba’s injury at the start of the season.
The arrival of Bruno to the Theatre of Dreams was no less than a soap opera, frustrating fans with every passing day without any concrete news about the club making any significant inroads into signing the Portuguese midfielder. United figures drew attention to stories in the Portuguese media – supposedly planted by Sporting CP in an effort to put pressure on the potential buying club. Ironically, a Portuguese reporter cast doubt on the deal after United informed British journalists of a breakthrough in talks. While pseudo-journalists cum United supporters were elated, their joy cut short as the deal seemed to have hit a wall.
Come Tuesday morning, Barcelona had developed an interest in the midfielder, or least that was the tale sewn up by the media. The Catalans planned to loan Fernandes out to Valencia in order to acquire the services of their star striker Rodrigo as a replacement for the injured Luis Suárez. As all hope for a late January swoop in Lisbon seemed lost for United, reports of Sporting and Manchester United having struck a deal surfaced, with big names from the media confirming the speculation. United insist they were not spooked by the story and the timing of their breakthrough in negotiations was merely a coincidence and industry insiders now suggest that Barcelona never had any intention of moving in for Fernandes.
United, on the other hand did as they let the money do the talking by shelling out an initial £46 million fee, paying an additional £21 million to sign their man.
The majestic creator came to light a year ago, having contributed 20 goals and 13 assists in Portugal’s top flight last season. What remains to be seen is if the man in charge at Old Trafford sees the Lisbon star as a potential Pogba replacement or whether he sees the pair providing creativity and goals behind the attack. After scoring 15 times and laying on 13 assists since the start of this season, the attacking midfielder should help ailing United find the net. Solksjaer has been hunting for a player to improve Man United’s midfield and Fernandes appears to fit the bill perfectly.
The Norwegian has been very vocal about the style he wants to implement in his side that is centered around fast-paced attacking football. He may have to sacrifice that idea in order to accommodate a potential blockbuster partnership between Fernandes and Pogba, doing away with playing 2 defensive-minded midfielders in Fred and McTominay. With Pogba and McTominay injured, Solksjaer could deploy the in-form Fred alongside Matić to screen the back 4, with Bruno occupying an advanced role in midfield.
However, the Portuguese international’s signing opens tactical avenues for Solksjaer to explore. Despite his insistence to opt for a 4-2-3-1 system, Fernandes could be the missing piece to United’s jigsaw puzzle in midfield as a 4-3-3 formation could be utilized, with Pogba playing alongside the former Udinese star, with either Fred or McTominay shouldering increased defensive responsibilities. Fernandes may have worn the No.8 shirt for Sporting Lisbon but his true role is as the classic No.10, dictating things just behind the forward line. But on occasion, depending on the formation being used, the flashy midfielder has also occupied a slightly deeper and understated role in central midfield.
Bruno has a well-honed game for a 25-year-old with many strings to his bow. Boasting an impressive sense of positioning and tactical intelligence of the highest order, Fernandes has been one of the top midfielders in Europe. Manchester United have been lethal against teams that like to dominate possession and come at them, aided with the dangerous pace of Daniel James and Marcus Rashford on the counter attack. The problems, however, arise when teams sit behind the ball, the Red Devils have found it particularly challenging to break down sides that employ a low block.
Having idolized and modelled his game on the likes of Xavi, Andrés Iniesta, Andrea Pirlo and Zinedine Zidane, Fernandes has taken a leaf from all of their metaphorical best-selling books and developed methods to break down even the most stubborn defences. This may come courtesy of an incisive through pass, spreading the play to a wide player in space or letting fly with a long-distance shot of his own.
But the package has some fragilities. The Premier league is physically demanding and this could prove an issue for Fernandes as it has been noted that he is pushed off the ball quite easily. Apart from that, discipline in terms of straying away from cards is also not the lad’s strongest suit. The ex-Sampdoria man had his name taken into the book 16 times last season. With VAR in place, he may want to watch his step a little in English football. United do need some nastiness, though and Bruno won’t shy away.
📂 We’ll file this under things we love to see 😎 pic.twitter.com/fIV9p2ijuB
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 30, 2020
United hope Fernandes will work well in tandem with Rashford and Martial and provide instant joy in the rather gloomy Greater Manchester quarters.
The United faithful fancy a talented young gun from Sporting Lisbon, since a certain Cristiano Ronaldo dared to dream in the Theatre of Dreams. If Bruno Fernandes can even match half of what the Portuguese superstar is, it’s going to be all smiles at Carrington for years to come.