After a flat first-half at West Ham’s London Stadium, in which Manchester United found themselves lacking creativity and trailing 1-0 at the 45-minute mark, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer decided he had seen enough and turned to his star man Bruno Fernandes.
Written by Darren Looney (@Darren95Looney), European football writer
Brought on alongside Marcus Rashford, the Portuguese international was the conductor of an impressive second-half display, which started by assisting Pogba and his presence alone inspired United to a 3-1 victory. In just two halves of football, the difference the Portuguese maestro made to United’s side was evident.
Fast forward 6 weeks and United have found themselves in a much better league position, knowing a victory on Sunday would see Ole’s men moving 6 points clear of their North West rivals at the top of the Premier League table.
Many expect United to fall away as the season continues and Bruno himself showed a hint of frustration after United’s shortcomings in the Carabao Cup defeat to Manchester City by tweeting (@B_Fernandes8): “I’m very sad and disappointed to once again don’t reach a final. We have a lot to fight yet but we have to learn and understand that we can’t make the same mistakes anymore. We need to make an effort to further improve and be able to fight for trophies.”
I’m very sad and disappointed to once again don’t reach a final. We have a lot to fight yet but we have to learn and understand that we can’t make the same mistakes anymore. We need to make an effort to further improve and be able to fight for trophies! pic.twitter.com/KTVx57wyUk
— Bruno Fernandes (@B_Fernandes8) January 7, 2021
Many United fans might see this tweet as a negative, but Bruno’s awareness of his own self-improvement and the need for the team to improve as a whole, especially considering the team’s recent results should encourage fans that this team is prepared for the months ahead.
However, the situation he finds himself in at present is very similar to a past striker of Sunday’s opponents.
Flashback to the start of the 2013/14 season and just like United this season, many believed Liverpool wouldn’t be part of the upcoming season’s title race. But after what would be one of arguably the best individual seasons in recent Premier League history from Luis Suarez, the Scousers soon found themselves in one. Just like Fernandes, Suarez found himself part of a team that heavily relied on his performances but also had young attacking talent around him that could be inspired by his brilliance, such as Daniel Sturridge who bagged 21 goals that season. He also had a defence which didn’t instil much confidence, conceding 50 goals in total that season and 24 goals in 21 games by January 12th of that year.
Bruno’s situation so far this season is very similar. The players around him are inspired by his creativity and Rashford’s talents are flourishing the most with 7 goals and 5 assists this season. United’s 2-2 draw with Leicester on Boxing Day showed that the pair, just like Suarez and Sturridge, clearly enjoy playing with each other with Bruno gleefully asking Rashford “did you see my assist?” after the pair linked up for the opening goal. But like the 13/14 Liverpool defence, United have a problem with conceding goals. United have conceded 24 goals this season, the same amount as Suarez’s Liverpool did at this stage of the year having played 4 games less. This could become a problem as the season goes on despite Fernandes’s brilliance and could be what the “we can’t make the same mistakes anymore” part of the tweet is eluding too.
From an individual point of view, Fernandes’ performances should inspire United fans to believe when compared to Suarez’s 13/14 season. As of January 12th of that season, Suarez contributed with an astonishing 22 goals and 8 assists in 16 games, after missing the first 5 due to suspension. Averaging a goal every 96 minutes overall that season. Bruno has influenced United similarly this season with 11 goals and 7 assists in 17 games, averaging a goal every 126 minutes despite not being a striker. Where Bruno does excel over Suarez being an attacking midfielder, is his role in United’s offensive built up. Bruno has averaged 3.1 key passes per game this season compared to Suarez’s 2.7 and he averages 55.7 passes per game compared to Suarez’s 38.3 over the course of the 13/14 season. Stats in football don’t show the full picture of a player’s value to a team, since there are factors you can’t put a number on but Fernandes’ numbers certainly back up his importance to his team and it could even be said that he is the main reason United are in a title race.
If there is to be any criticism of Fernandes, it can be found in his performances against the league’s ‘Big 6’. For any title challenging team beating fellow title rivals is a vital part of getting over the line. Bruno has 1 goal in 4 of these games which he will no doubt be trying to improve starting on Sunday. Suarez participated in 8 goals in 9 games against the “Big 6” with 4 goals and 4 assists, which is a big part of why Liverpool went close that season. This is a factor Ole needs to figure out, as it is evident that Bruno has very little space to operate in these games due to the oppositions press and most of the criticism comes from how much he is disposed or misplaces a pass due to teammates occupying crowded space.
Despite Suarez’s individual efforts, Liverpool failed to win the 13/14 title and the fingers were mainly pointed at the defence. For United to keep up with their rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, who have set the highest of standards over the last 3-years, Ole will need to start ironing out both individual and collective defensive errors throughout the second half of the season.
Nonetheless, there is plenty of football still to play and in one of football’s strangest seasons anything can happen. If United are to end their 8 year wait for England’s top prize, there is no doubt that Bruno Fernandes’ fingerprints will be found all over it.