Bruno Fernandes has transformed Manchester United. The Portuguese maestro has been a creative menace for the Red Devils ever since his £50million move from Sporting in January. The 26-year-old quickly put his stamp on the team and he’s now viewed as the club’s franchise player, with Paul Pogba having to settle for a place on the bench.
Since his debut against Wolves, Fernandes, amongst midfielders in the Premier League, ranks fifth for attempted passes into the final third, 11th for completed passes into the final third and sixth for forward passes attempted and completed. The United No.18 is also fourth for expected assists (xA) behind Kevin De Bruyne, Andrew Robertson and Dwight McNeil.
On multiple occasions this season, Fernandes has scored and assisted in the same match. Against Everton, however, he went one better, scoring twice and setting Edinson Cavani up for his first goal in English football.
After back to back losses against Arsenal and Istanbul Basaksehir, Ole Gunnar Solskjær needed his side to get back to winning ways. They fell behind to an early Bernard goal at Goodison Park but then Fernandes clicked into action.
The diminutive attacker powered home a header to get United back onto level terms. His floated cross then evaded Marcus Rashford’s head before clipping the post and beating Jordan Pickford. In the space of seven minutes, the visitors had overturned the deficit and taken the lead, with Fernandes the star of the show. He rounded the match off with a clever, unselfish reverse pass to find his new No.7 in the final minute of stoppage time.
While his goal involvement numbers dominate the post-match conversations, Fernandes’ general performance against the Toffees epitomised why Solskjær was convinced he was the man to improve his attack.
Football is all about taking risks. The best passes you see are always those with the most uncertainty attached. They aren’t simple or easy. Instead, they’re ones that can quite easily be intercepted or overhit. They’re progressive. It’s why, when looking at Fernandes’ pass map above, you notice there are a high number of failed ones.
He’s trying to execute difficult passes in order to get United into better areas. The 23-cap Portugal international will forever be involved in turnovers, it’s just in his nature. But, as the pass map shows, when these attempts are completed, the team benefits massively. He’s forever probing. For example, against Everton, six of his passes into the penalty area found a team-mate.
Using Contextual metrics provided by our partners Sportlogiq, we’re able to find out exactly what Fernandes does when in possession. Against Everton, his passes bypassed a total of 50 opposition players. By comparison, Juan Mata played 82 minutes of the match and he managed to bypass just 12 players with his passes. Of those 50 the United No.18 bypasses, 18 were defenders. He ranked third in the match for that specific metric with only Pickford (24) and Mason Holgate (22) taking more defenders out of the game.
What makes Fernandes’ numbers even more impressive is that an Everton player was within three metres of him whenever he was attempting passes to break the defensive lines. Holgate had, on average, 7 metres of space and Pickford had in excess of 10 metres. To loop back to the earlier comparison, Mata had a player within five metres of him.
Fernandes was attempting line-breaking passes under pressure. It’s this that makes him so invaluable to Solskjær and the team. He’s brave enough to take those risks and shoulder the creative responsibility.
He hasn’t been a United player for 12 months yet, but it’s difficult to imagine the Red Devils without Fernandes in their team. The more they shape their team around him, the better he’ll become.
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