Erik ten Hag

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has played down the blow of losing attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes for Sunday’s tussle with Aston Villa at Villa Park.

The Portugal international, who has sported the captain’s armband for much of this season in the absence of Harry Maguire, will miss the trip to the Midlands through suspension. He picked up his fifth booking of the season in the latter stages of last Sunday’s 1-0 win over West Ham United and must serve a one-game ban.

Fernandes, who joined United in January 2020 from Sporting Lisbon, has started all but one game in all competitions this season, playing every minute so far in the Premier League. Although he has not been at his fluent best this term, his absence in the attacking-midfield berth is likely to be felt.

United have a good crop of midfielders available to them to come in and replace the former Sporting star, but it remains to be seen what Ten Hag will choose to do, given it’s the first time in his premiership that he has been unable to call upon the 28-year-old. However, the Dutchman, while he accepts that being without him is a loss, has highlighted the importance of having a good squad of players to choose from.

“Yes, until now, Bruno is so important for us,” Ten Hag told United’s club website. “In every match, he plays really good.

“I think also yesterday [vs Real Sociedad], he was playing from the right, he made an impact there as well. You see, for instance, with the goal and also some other actions.

“As a No.10, he’s playing really good games and we have to replace him, that’s the squad. Therefore, you need a squad, it’s not about 11 players, you need a squad to win in a season and now we have to replace him and we will do.”

Meanwhile, United could still be without Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial and Antony for the trip to Villa Park. The trio all missed the midweek win over Real Sociedad through illness and injury-related issues.

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