The Red Devils signed Bruno Fernandes from Sporting CP on the 30th of January 2020. Eight days before his arrival Man United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley, their third defeat in their last four games. This defeat left them fifth, just four points above 14th placed Newcastle. Solskjær’s side have taken 32 points from the following 14 matches, two more than anyone else. This form has helped Man United clinch Champions League football for the 2020/21 season but how has one player had such an impact at one of the biggest clubs in world football?
Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure, one of Man United’s biggest weaknesses has been creating chances. Between 2013/14 and 2018/19, Man United have only placed in the top four for shots and key passes in one season, 2016/17. In 2015/16 they were 15th and 16th for shots and key passes respectively, below clubs like Stoke and Sunderland. This emphasised how flat the Red Devils looked, their toothless attack was evidently a huge problem, and this continued into 2019/20.
Before Fernandes’ arrival Paul Pogba, who only had five league starts before June, was the only player in the squad to average over 2 key passes per 90. Andreas Pereira and Marcus Rashford were the only others to average over one chance created a game from open play.
The Portuguese’s adventurous and high-risk approach has put fear into opponent’s defences. His 76% pass accuracy and his 13.3 misplaced masses per game, highest in Man United’s squad, doesn’t look good but emphasises his willingness to try things. This coupled with his vision means when it does come off, it is spectacular.
Fernandes leads the squad for chances created on 2.3 per game, 1.6 of which are from open play. This has led to Solskjær’s men scoring 2.3 goals with Bruno in the side, not only is this a huge increase from the 1.5 they averaged without him, but it is also more than Liverpool.
The former Sampdoria star plays as a roaming 10, this brings balance to the attack as they are less reliant on attacks down the left. Before he joined, Solskjær’s attack was reliant on Rashford, it now has multiple focal points. This helps leave space for other attacks due to his ability on the edge of the box which is highlighted by his 2.4 shots form outside the area per 90.
Although he has had a few penalty goals, Fernandes became the first player to register 13 direct goal involvements from his first 10 Premier League appearances. This helped to dismiss any doubts people had over his ability to adapt to the English topflight. Despite this, he is actually producing at a higher level in the Premier League than he was in Portugal. His 102 minutes per goal involvement in Portugal has dropped to a goal involvement every 82 minutes.
Not only has his arrival helped the attack but it’s also helped Paul Pogba. The Frenchman has slotted back into the midfield as the number 8 and knows there’s an athletic and quick-thinking creator in front of him. During the break in the Premier League season, Pogba analysed Bruno’s game so he knew how best to accommodate the new arrival. Before Paul was tasked with everything in the midfield as he had to start attacks from the defence, progress the ball and score or assist whilst also defending. Now he is in a freer role where he is at his best which has also been helped by Nemanja Matić’s return to form. This has helped the Red Devil’s midfield go from weak to one of the most feared in Europe.
His hard work and attacking flair has not only helped United become a fun team to watch but also a lethal one. His arrival has seen the team improve and look like they could consistently qualify for the Champions League. A fan favourite for years to come, Bruno Fernandes has been the catalyst Man United have needed to get their project back on track.