Manchester United fans might have to accept the gutting reality about Bruno Fernandes – Steven Railston

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Manchester United’s opening game of the season against Leeds pointed towards an enthralling campaign. United sauntered to an emphatic 5-1 win at Old Trafford and Bruno Fernandes scored a hat-trick, with Paul Pogba recording four assists.

It was a breathless game that showcased United’s individuals at their world-class best. There is an irony that United’s best performance of the season – that match against Leeds – was orchestrated by individuals, as that would gradually prove to be this side’s very undoing as results dramatically unravelled. There would be no cohesion on the pitch as the weeks progressed.

After the signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was left with no choice but to ask his side to play in a more expansive manner. The players attempted to respond to that desire, but they were poorly coached, tactically neglected and Solskjaer’s fate was sealed. United’s season has never recovered from those disastrous first few months.

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There has been no shortage of debacles this term and United’s players have deservedly received unprecedented criticism in the wake of their every failure. United have matched their longest run without silverware for 40 years this season and there’s nowhere to hide at the club. The most untouchable of players at United are feeling the pressure and even Fernandes is one of those.

The Stretford End serenading Fernandes with ‘BRUNO! BRUNO! BRUNO!’ as he walked off the pitch with the match ball after the opening game of the season now seems like a distant memory. Fernandes made an immediate impact after signing for United in January 2020 and he’s been genuinely world-class since, but that does not put him beyond reproach this campaign.

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Gary Neville and Roy Keane have criticized Fernandes in recent months and that would have been almost unthinkable last year.



Bruno Fernandes of United

While David de Gea and Ronaldo have been the standout performers in an otherwise bleak season for United, Fernandes has still had a respectable campaign on an individual basis. His record of nine goals and 14 assists in 37 appearances would suggest there should be no qualms over the midfielder, but some match-going fans are becoming impatient with Fernandes.

You can still feel the overwhelming love for Fernandes at Old Trafford from those exact supporters. Fernandes has been United’s best player for two seasons. He’s become a maverick-like figure that delivers when his side of him needs him most. He was utterly talismanic and the driving force behind United’s deceptive progress (Europa League final and finishing runners-up in the Premier League).

However, the change of system at United – Ralf Rangnick moving to a 4-3-3 – looks to have somewhat stifled him. Fernandes no longer has free reign in the No.10 role that he has captured fans’ hearts and minds in. He’s being asked to be more disciplined instead.

Manchester City and Liverpool have shown a midfield three needs to be balanced and United crucially lack that balance. Fernandes hasn’t been the same player playing in a midfield trio and his wastefulness in possession has become a problem. Fernandes has also been burdened with an increased defensive workload. Fernandes’ body language has shown what he thinks of that.

Fernandes’ petulance and tendency to roll around on the floor have irritated a section of supporters. Those tendencies are overlooked when United are winning, but they haven’t been, and supporters’ annoyance has been exacerbated with every poor result.

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Fernandes is supposed to be the player that United fans can expect to deliver on the biggest occasion. In this season’s biggest games, he’s been anonymous – most of the squad have, to be fair – and often found rolling around, or complaining to the referee.

This is perhaps down to Fernandes’ frustration at his decreased impact on games. The midfielder has been sensational since his arrival from him, one of the best players in the Premier League, so it would be normal for him to express his frustration on the pitch now he’s encountering adversity. The positive is: you would have to be foolish to bet against Fernandes overcoming that adversity.

Fernandes will benefit from playing under a quality coach, which is a luxury he’s yet to have in Manchester. Fernandes needs to be shown how to thrive in a three-man midfield and then he’ll likely return to the player that United fans adore.

At the moment, Fernandes’ petulance has become a problem and he’s not himself in the three-man midfield. Both of those issues can be easily addressed and Fernandes should be back to his instrumental best next season.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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