Bruno Fernandes

It’s hard to always appreciate what Bruno Fernandes brings to the Manchester United side.

At first, it was quantitative. In his first half of a season at the club, he scored eight goals and provided seven assists in 14 Premier League matches, going on to be named the club’s Player of the Season.

A year later, he did it again. Another Player of the Season award after another goal-gluttonous campaign that saw him score 18 times in 36 Premier League starts as well as contribute another 11 assists.

Then there is the stuff that is qualitative; no exact measures but more of what he represents on the pitch and what he brings to the team other than the goals and the assists.

Fernandes has established himself as a long-term candidate for the club captaincy this season, with his leadership on the field proving crucial to the recent success. So often, it is he who encourages teammates when they are in need of a boost, and it is he who is so often in the face of the officials, passionately putting forward United’s case.

Because he set such high standards when he first joined the club, Fernandes is frequently chastised by critics, with his performances only considered successful if they have had a direct impact on a goal.

The 28-year-old is also harshly punished by the fact that he raised standards when he arrived at the club. He was the standout performer in a poor side, and since then the quality around him has improved.

Fernandes’ level of performance may appear to have dropped, but it has largely remained the same; the only difference is that there are now more attacking threats in the side, and the level of quality around him has risen to a level where he does not stand out as brightly.

Instead, perhaps the most pertinent criticism levelled at the Portugal international is that he hasn’t adapted his game sufficiently to their new style of play, something which could cause problems in the future under Erik ten Hag.

The Dutchman wants to implement a possession-based approach with an emphasis on calmness and composure, as well as measured passing and patience in breaking down defences.

Christian Eriksen and Casemiro have been key additions to that philosophy, but, despite his incredible passing range, Fernandes often lacks the discipline and patience to keep things simple in attacking areas while they wait for space to appear.

He lost possession 11 times in total against West Ham last weekend, often doing so in the final third when there was a promising attack taking shape.

It wasn’t a one-off either. Fernandes loses the ball an average of 15.3 times per match, which is the most of any United player so far this season. While the rest of his teammates are attempting to perfect Ten Hag’s orchestral style, he appears to be distracted by the high-risk guitar solo he has been daydreaming about.

Yet take a quick look on social media and you’ll easily find others who are looking to view his weekend display as one of influential success. The Portuguese playmaker finished the game with five tackles, six recoveries and ten successful ground duels, excelling at the dirtier side of the game when out of possession.

But the desired vision is for United to be the team dominating proceedings and not have to rely on winning the ball back in the first place, something that Fernandes still needs to adapt his game to.

His high-risk plays still have a place in matches when United are coming unstuck against stubborn defences, but they should be a last resort when a more methodical approach has initially been tried.

There is no denying Fernandes’ immense match-winning talent for this United team. He just needs to fine-tune when he decides to use it.


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