Bruno Fernandes and Casemiro remind Manchester United of monster mentalities in Aston Villa win
The sight of Bruno Fernandes berating a team-mate during, or after, a Manchester United game is not unfamiliar to those who watch them regularly.
At one stage in the 1-0 win over Aston Villa, Jadon Sancho was caught on camera apparently telling the United No8 to “stop moaning”.
Certainly on occasion, Fernandes’ passion can spill over and get mistakened for petulance. It was after that listless 7-0 shellacking at Liverpool in early March that the Portuguese was widely slammed for his attitude. He simply couldn’t handle losing by such a margin and his emotions got the better of him.
Erik ten Hag doesn’t agree with those who brand the Portuguese as petulant, however, and this week has been quick to talk up his midfielder at every opportunity: for playing through the pain barrier to dazzle at Tottenham on Thursday night, then for breaking a near three-month Premier League goal drought with the winner against Villa on Sunday, capping another captain’s performance.
“He’s so tough,” the United boss said. “A couple of weeks ago people questioned the captaincy... crazy. He’s a big leader, gives so much energy to the team with his determination and resilience, you need players like him if you want to win trophies.”
Fernandes enjoyed a healthy disagreement with Casemiro at the end of this game, much in the way the pair bickered even after winning a trophy; after beating Newcastle in the Carabao Cup final a couple of months ago they were in each other’s faces while team-mates celebrated around them.
Some might view such an exchange as potentially damaging to dressing room morale. But the rest of the United players don’t seem to mind and nor does Ten Hag. He sees Casemiro as cut from the same cloth as Fernandes, both born competitors and desperate to win at all costs.
“His leadership is so important for us,” Ten Hag added on Casemiro after the Villa game. “Others go with him, he is an example. The second half, a determined team who want to win more than the opponent.”
The Brazilian was back to his very best on Sunday after a dip of late, again resembling the player who has done so much to transform United this season. When he’s on song he suffocates opponents, mopping up clearances to keep defences penned in as Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Co. wreak havoc behind enemy lines.
And so while Victor Lindelof took some of the plaudits on this dank Sunday afternoon in Manchester, nodding away a vital goalline clearance to deny Ollie Watkins in the second half’s clutch moment, United know their long-term lynchpins.
Lindelof and Luke Shaw have ensured that Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have not been missed too much at the back in recent weeks, but heaven knows where United would be without Fernandes and Casemiro this season.
A very important three points!!
👊🏽🔴#MUFC #MUNAVL pic.twitter.com/T6eGkrE2w1
— Casemiro (@Casemiro) April 30, 2023
The pair are arguably the club’s greatest signings since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement (a low bar, admittedly) with Martinez and Varane close behind. They need more of their calibre and more gritty wins like this one, which was much welcome after Ten Hag’s men had twice in recent weeks – against Sevilla and then Spurs – surrendered two-goal leads.
When Fernandes and Casemiro are at their best, United don’t do that. And they didn’t look like losing this one, even against an in-form Villa side who arrived at Old Trafford fresh off a 10-game unbeaten run. They are not the type to surrender.
A note to the next owner of Manchester United – these two are mentality monsters who must be kept at the epicentre of the Ten Hag project. Their ‘argument’ ended with a big bear hug, by the way.