Man Utd are better for being a Bruno Fernandes team, not a Cristiano Ronaldo one

The past week has been a major step forward for Manchester United, which might seem odd if the results are only compared to equal games from last season.

After all, United also beat Tottenham Hotspur at home last season and drew 1-1 at Stamford Bridge. What’s the difference?

Well, almost everything. Last season’s 3-2 win over Tottenham was almost a parody of the arguments for and against Cristiano Ronaldo’s inclusion in the side. “United” played mostly, but Ronaldo stood out with an excellent “hat-trick”. In Michael Carrick’s short spell in charge at Stamford Bridge, United played very defensively and only scored thanks to a stupid mistake by Jorginho that allowed them to break away from a Chelsea set-piece. They created little else.

This time, Eric ten Haag’s side were composed and confident against Tottenham, playing around Hugo Lloris’s goal with shots throughout the first half before winning in the second half. They needed a superb header from Casemiro to earn a point at Stamford Bridge on Saturday, but they got off to a great start again, dominating the midfield to the extent that Graham Potter had to make a radical change before half-time to secure Chelsea. were not beaten.

Since their 6-3 demolition of Manchester City, United have been stronger defensively, conceding just twice in four games (to Alex Iwobi’s long-range goal and Jorginho’s penalty rather than defending). Their pressing is cohesive, which prevented Tottenham and Chelsea from playing from defense to midfield.

The mid lane is fluid and the trio are quick to break through the opposition. At times they looked like a 4-2-3-1, at times more like a 4-3-3, in both formations against Tottenham in different phases of the game. Fred sat alongside Casemiro to help press Tottenham’s midfield trio before moving forward to play alongside Bruno Fernandes, although the Portuguese midfielder was always looking to break in behind the opposition defence.

[Cristiano Ronaldo to be included in Manchester United’s squad for Europa League match against Sheriff]

The attack consists of runs from behind and dangerous shots from distance. Perhaps most interestingly, United are a constant attacking threat despite Jadon Sancho still not at his best, Marcus Rashford still wasteful in front of goal and Antony, while outstanding so far, still in his formative days at the club. In other words, Manchester United don’t stand out just for the individual magic of their strikers, which can come later.

However, the man once again dominating the sideline is Fernandez. He scored a superb goal in the 2-0 win over Tottenham and created two great chances for Rashford and Anthony in the first half at Stamford Bridge. After a year when Fernandez’s profile was threatened by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo, this is now his side again.

Fernandez remains underrated and his influence at the club is often overlooked. After Fernandes’ arrival in January 2020, Manchester United were a shambolic outfit and the league table from then on is worth a look. United were 36 points clear of eventual title winners Liverpool and just four ahead of Burnley, Newcastle and other mid-table teams.

Also Read :  How Ted Lasso ended up in ‘FIFA 23’ — and then racked up over 1 million wins
Pos Club Points

1

Liverpool

70

2

City of Manchester

51

3

Leicester

48

4

Chelsea

40

5

Manchester United

34

6

Tottenham

34

7

Wolverhampton

34

8

Sheffield United

33

9

Southampton

31

10

Arsenal

30

11

Crystal Palace

30

12

Everton

30

13

Burnley

30

14

Newcastle

30

From this point on, United was transformed. From Fernandez’s arrival until the end of the campaign, they collected the most points in the league.

Pos Club Points

1

Manchester United

32

2

City of Manchester

30

3

Liverpool

29

4

Arsenal

26

5

Chelsea

26

6

Tottenham

25

The following season they finished second behind Manchester City.

Pos Club Points

1

City of Manchester

86

2

Manchester United

74

3

Liverpool

69

4

Chelsea

67

5

Leicester

66

6

West Ham

65

Of course, it wasn’t down to Fernandez, and his stats were boosted by a decent number of penalties. But he had 15 goals and assists in 14 games in his first season and 30 in 37 games in his second season.

In his first calendar year at the club, he won the Premier League Player of the Month award four times. To put that into context, only six players (Sergio Aguero, Harry Kane, Steven Gerrard, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie) have won the award more than four times in their entire Premier League career.

Fernandez’s impact was extraordinary and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s decision to base Fernandez as a No.10 rather than an No.8 alongside Paul Pogba was the best of his United tenure.

And then of course United signed Ronaldo and the side went from Fernandez to Ronaldo. He mostly lived up to his individual responsibility, but overall the side suffered. United slipped to sixth and were as close on points to 19th-placed Watford as they were to champions Manchester City.

It’s a simplistic summary, but it tells the story. When The Athletic asked Fernandez if he was playing well enough with Ronaldo earlier this season, he gave a diplomatic answer.

“Most of my passes last season were to him, so I don’t think (it’s a fair criticism),” Fernandez said. “I just had a bad season in terms of my numbers. I don’t think it’s about Cristiano or me… playing with Cristiano as a number 10 is actually really good because the players respect Cristiano so much that it creates more space because the opponents afraid he will take the ball away and score.They want to mark him and create an overload where he has to mark him.

And there are examples of Fernandes and Ronaldo combining to score goals, as you would expect from a top class attacking midfielder and a legendary striker. There are no personal problems between them, although Fernandez can sometimes seem too dignified, sometimes feeling forced to pass for his better-known teammate.

Also Read :  Qatar World Cup Opening Ceremony: Watch, live stream Korean pop star Jung Kook of BTS perform, start time

Still, this season’s numbers make for interesting reading. Here’s a chart looking at Fernandez’s combined Expected Goals (xG) and Expected Assists (xA) so far this season, along with whether or not Ronaldo played the majority of the game. (For clarity, “yes” means he played 62 minutes or more. “No” means he played 32 minutes or less.)

The opposition Ronaldo? Fernandes xG+A

Brighton

no

0.41

Brentford

Yes

0.10

Liverpool

no

0.86

Southampton

no

0.87

Leicester

no

0.16

Arsenal

no

0.72

City of people

no

0.02

Everton

Yes

0.09

Newcastle

Yes

0.18

Tottenham

no

0.87

Chelsea

no

0.45

The article is amazing. Fernandez was alive even in the defeat at Brighton when Ronaldo was sidelined, then anonymous against Brentford when Ronaldo started. Ronaldo’s exit against Liverpool prompted a major improvement from Fernandes, who was also excellent against Southampton and Arsenal.

True, there were some quieter games for Fernandes against Leicester and Manchester City in the strikes, but after that the pattern returns. Fernandez offered little against Everton and Newcastle, playing behind Ronaldo. Since Ronaldo was dropped against Tottenham and Chelsea, Fernandez has been back in action.

This is a relatively small sample size of 11 games. But the pattern seems significant, especially since the numbers back up the eye test.

And to show that Fernandez’s xG and xA numbers haven’t increased in non-Ronaldo games after Ronaldo’s introduction from the bench, here are the minutes and xG of the two combined — in other words, when one has created an opportunity for the other.

The opposition Ronaldo minutes Combination of CR and BF xG

Brighton

37

0.00

Brentford

90

0.05

Liverpool

4

0.00

Southampton

22

0.00

Leicester

22

0.06

Arsenal

32

0.00

City of people

0.00

Everton

61

0.03

Newcastle

72

0.07

Tottenham

0.00

Chelsea

0.00

For the equivalent of 3.75 games combined, Fernandez and Ronaldo have assisted each other for just 0.19 x G chances.

To put this in context, Fernandez created chances for Rashford against Tottenham and against Chelsea, both of which were higher than the xG between Fernandez and Ronaldo of 3.75 games.

Ronaldo tends to make runs short of touching the ball simply because he wants to get involved. He often takes Fernandez’s place rather than helping to draw opponents out to create space.

While Rashford’s shooting has been patchy, his and Fernandes’ movement has been structured and cohesive. United usually have an attacking option between the lines and another at the back.

The best example was midway through the first half against Tottenham. When Fred receives the ball in midfield, Fernandez is effectively part of a forward duo – he on the right, Rashford on the left.

The crucial part of this move is Fernandez’s glance over his shoulder to check if Rashford is ready to run. Fernandez then drops down the left and Rashford runs into the right channel.

Also Read :  UCLA Storms Back, Wins Second NCAA Women's Soccer Title

This simple move creates problems for the Spurs defense – Eric Dier tries to pass Fernandez – and Fred now has two great passing opportunities. He goes to run in behind and Rashford might have done better with the opportunity.

This is Rashford’s first goal in a 3-1 win over Arsenal. It’s similar – Fernandez on the right, checks over his shoulder to see Rashford ready to run in from the left.

This time the ball is played through Fernandez and his brilliant off-foot ball finds Rashford who puts another one into the right channel to score.

Fernandez is good at finding Rashford’s runs. Here’s a similar situation against Chelsea, Casemiro slips the ball to Fernandes, who then passes to Rashford. His first touch here is heavy and Kepa shuts him down.

And, above all, there is movement in the other direction. That goal was disallowed for offside and Tottenham’s defense could have stopped playing knowing that Fernandez had left too early. But it’s a good example of Rashford passing and flicking the ball for Fernandez to go through on goal.

Also worth mentioning is Fernandez’s volley against Southampton earlier this season – a completely different situation as he converted Diogo Dalot’s deep cross. But then again, in the build-up, we only get to see the back of Fernandez’s head when he sees Rashford running and knows to back off and wait for space to open up.

Fernandes has a reputation as a maverick based on his performances since joining Manchester United. And there are valid criticisms; he has sometimes been guilty of trying killer balls too early, for example. But he was often too ambitious because there was no real core structure under Solskjaer or Ralf Rangnick. The players were mostly left to fend for themselves in the attacking phase, and Fernandez did it better than anyone.

It’s a different story under Ten Hag. Fernandez needs to think more about the formation of the wing and his positional responsibilities. Sometimes he is No. 8, sometimes No. 10 and sometimes a runner at the back. But it suits his skill set, and his obvious understanding of what’s going on around him shows that he can work in this system. Remarkably, he has barely missed a minute this season, only to be substituted at halftime on opening day.

Ten Haag does not rely entirely on one player, which runs counter to his philosophy and partly explains why Ronaldo has been on the sidelines, so Fernandez is not in the free role he enjoyed under Solskjaer. But he is a key player in Manchester United’s resurgence and the biggest beneficiary of what everyone must now admit: United are better without Ronaldo.

(Top photo: Mark Atkins/Getty Images)



Source

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Related Articles

Back to top button