Why Manchester United would be wrong to worry about Bruno Fernandes’ Anfield performance

Mark Critchley
·4-min read
Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United via Getty Images)
Manchester United playmaker Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United via Getty Images)

It took him nearly an entire year but finally, it happened: Bruno Fernandes played poorly in a Manchester United shirt.

In fact, it was not the first time, but other underwhelming displays have been masked by a goal, assist or telling contribution which has then sent Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side on their way to victory.

And even when that has not been the case, his all-action style and unrelenting drive to play on the front foot has shielded him from criticism.

But following Sunday’s goalless draw against Liverpool, Fernandes’ performance has come under some scrutiny. And to be fair, there is no escaping the fact that he fell someway below his usual high standards.

Fernandes typically sets up five shots on goal for his team-mates every game. At Anfield, he set up just one - a tame Paul Pogba header from a 72nd-minute corner.

Read more: Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hits back at Bruno Fernandes critics

He was less involved than usual, too. A total of 50 touches was lower than in any league or European game this season in which he has played more than 75 minutes, in fact.

Much has been made of his pass completion rate, which came in at a discombobulated 57 per cent.

Pogba’s and Marcus Rashford’s were even worse, remarkably, but then they did not balloon the ball quite as badly as Fernandes did during the first half, slicing it 50ft in the air and squandering one of many wasted opportunities on the counter-attack.

Then there was the chance, the 75th-minute shot at the end of a well-worked, 14-pass United move which ended with Luke Shaw’s cross and Alisson turning away Fernandes’ placed finish with his legs.

It was a good chance rather than a golden opportunity but still United’s best up until that point and the type that people remember if you miss.

But Solskjaer looks at his most reliable match-winner and - quite rightly - sees absolutely no problem.

“His form is very good, he was just voted Player of the Month,” the United manager pointed out at his pre-match press conference, ahead of tonight’s trip to Fulham.

“If he scored his free-kick or if it just had a little air on the ball when Luke put the cross in he'd have been lauded as best player in the Premier League again. Since he’s come in, he's been absolutely immense.”

And, as Solskjaer explained, asking him to do anything differently would be a mistake.

What much of the criticism of his Anfield performance has missed is that Fernandes is a risk-taker by nature, which is exactly what United lacked before his arrival a year ago and exactly what they have benefitted from since.

His pass completion rate can plumb extraordinary depths because he is constantly looking to play the difficult balls which will unlock an opposition's defence. He will miss good chances too, precisely because he gambles to arrive in goal-scoring positions.

“He’s expected to create goals, score goals and sometimes the margins are against him,” Solskjaer said. “There were a couple of passes that he played through and it was marginal as to whether the player was on or off[side].

“So he’s always on the verge of creating something, even when he loses the ball, and that's the position I want him in and that’s what he's been told to do. He has to be the creative one. I want him to play the passes he sees.”

Whether or not he could do with a rest is a separate question. Solskjaer insisted yesterday that his playmaker is not fatigued.

“He is one of the players that runs and covers the ground in every single game, he’s very good at recovering and recharging his batteries,” the United manager said. “He’s not tired and if I ask him he'll say there's absolutely no chance that he's tired.”

Even so, Fernandes has started all but one league game this season - last month’s trip to West Ham, when he was brought on to help turn a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 win - and a turn out of the starting line-up may help protect him from this most congested of schedules.

That is a genuine dilemma which Solskjaer faces, but this trip to play a much-improved Fulham may not be the time to start resting key players.

And if anybody at Old Trafford has made themselves undroppable over the past year, it is Fernandes. There may be poor performances from time to time, but those are the percentages that he plays, and it has served United well up to this point.

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