Ole Strikes Portu-Gold

Bruno Fernandes has provided the much needed spark for Manchester United, lighting up the Premier League after already showing glimpses during his short time in England.

Just one week before the Portuguese international was confirmed after a deal was agreed in principle between Manchester United and Sporting CP for £67.6 million, Manchester United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley; a result met with frustrated boos ringing around Old Trafford in another quality devoid performance, where Manchester United appeared to be in real danger of letting another below-par campaign pass by.

Fast forward three months and the picture appears completely different for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his side. Prior to the Coronavirus outbreak, a pandemic that bought football and the world as we know it to a halt, Manchester United have gone 11 unbeaten and look a rejuvenated outfit to the ones who suffered at the hands of Burnley, reigniting their Premier League top four ambitions, and the opportunity of silverware in the FA Cup and UEFA Europa League.

The signing of Bruno Fernandes has no doubt been the catalyst for this short-term United success, and a positive attempt at rectifying previous errors of judgement made by former managers – ever since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013. Big money and big names have all seen the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria, all signed with huge European acclaim, fail miserably in their brief and underwhelming spells in Manchester. But why is this high profile signing different from all the rest?

As Sir Alex opted to step down off his perch as a managerial great, his former employers Manchester United, a club helmed by four different managers in 41 years prior to the Scotsman retiring, have achieved this feat in a mere 8 years, post Ferguson.  They appear to have taken a U-turn, opting to play the long game with club legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at the wheel.

Fernandes is one of a flurry of successful acquisitions in a recent upturn of transfer dealings at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also attained the services of Harry Maguire, Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Odion Ighalo since taking permanent charge of the club and they have all followed in the same vein as their Portuguese teammate, after hitting the ground running in a newly designed United identity. A system heavy on promoting youth and fast flowing football in a bid to source and return the winning formula back to the Theatre of Dreams.

United’s newest recruit made his Premier League bow in a 0-0 home draw against Wolves on 1st February, and since that time has notched up three goals and five assists in all competitions this season. Not only this, but his numbers elsewhere are equally as astonishing. Since his debut, Fernandes has contributed the most:

Key passes – 11

Shots on goal – 19

Crosses – 25

Passes into final third – 43

Passes in opposition half – 203

Passes into opposition box – 48

Comfortably more than any of his teammates, since he’s been at the club. 

The quality that Fernandes possesses on the pitch were never in doubt. The 25-year-old had pitched in sufficiently with 63 goals and 57 assists in 137 games during his time in Portugal. This proved to be an input that lead Sporting to domestic cup glory, captaining the side in his homeland to Taca de Portugal and back-to-back Taca de Liga triumphs. During his time  in southwestern Europe, Fernandes has nursed himself as one of the most natural talents to emerge from the Iberian Peninsula since Cristiano Ronaldo. Wonder what happened to him? Either way, Fernandes isn’t here to live in the shadow of his international compatriot, who too emerged from Sporting’s well-established academy, but make a whole new name for himself, as his intellectual characteristics justify his price tag further.

The Portuguese Playmaker has been the no.10 that United have been screaming out for a few years now, especially noticeable a lot more than usual this season, with the injury-plagued season that has been endured by Paul Pogba. Fernandes has plugged a huge gap and is finally establishing a clear link between midfield and attack. His confidence and assured ability to dig deep, work hard off the ball and play guilt edged, forward passes when in possession has rubbed off on those around him wearing red.

Manchester United have scored 21 goals in the eight games that Fernandes has started. Whilst proving he can exploit the gaps in any defence he faces up against from open play, he has also proven to be of deadly use from set pieces. This includes: scoring from the spot on two occasions, against Watford and Club Brugge, or floating in the corner for Harry Maguire’s goal in their 2-0 away win at Chelsea. United had scored just one corner all season prior to the arrival of the Portuguese Magnifico, as he is so warmly labelled by the United supporters.

Bruno is quite the hit here at Old Trafford

Bruno’s instant impact has been met with praise from Premier League onlookers too, as he was awarded the Premier League player of the month award for February, his first full month plying his trade in the land of the 0161-telephone code. This landmark achievement saw Fernandes join an exclusive list with 11 other players who have won the honour during their first month in the league or their first month at a new club in the division. This illustrious club includes Norwich’s Teemu Pukki and Fernandes’ fellow United cohort – Anthony Martial, when he burst onto the scene for United back in 2015.

The abundance of confidence and swagger that Fernandes carries when strutting around the pitch, its almost as if he appears completely unfazed by the physicality of the Premier League and any of the intimidating personalities within it. This was proven evident in the way that he shushed Pep Guardiola following United’s dramatic derby day sinking of Manchester City. This temperament could and most likely will see him succeed where many others have failed in recent years.

Most importantly, the team spirit looks to have benefited enormously as the Red Devils look almost unrecognisable from their early season inconsistencies. Needless to say, Bruno Fernandes will prove to be a valuable cog in the much needed United rebuild, and with the Portuguese starlet at the heart of their attack, the red half of Manchester can certainly look forward with a sense of ambition in seasons to come.

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