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Graham Ruthven: "The argument Fernandes is the best player in the Premier League is a strong one"

Graham Ruthven: "The argument Fernandes is the best player in the Premier League is a strong one"

The importance of Bruno Fernandes.

ALMOST as soon as Bruno Fernandes was introduced off the bench, the game changed. West Ham had dominated Manchester United in the first half on Saturday. The only success for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side in the opening 45 minutes at the London Stadium was that they had only conceded once when the hosts had the opportunities to score more.

Fernandes, rested having played almost every minute of every United match of late, was notable in his absence. Solskjaer’s men weren’t just toothless. They lacked fight and urgency. It was up there among the first halves of football player under the Norwegian’s stewardship. There was no sign of a comeback.

With Fernandes on the pitch, though, a comeback was almost inevitable. Thrown on at half time as a fix-all solution to Manchester United’s problems, the Portuguese midfielder did exactly that - he fixed all. By full time, United had a 3-1 win under their belt and three points to lift them to within two points of the top of the Premier League. 

Mason Greenwood, Juan Mata and Marcus Rashford also stepped up in the second half at the London Stadium, but Fernandes was on another level to anyone in the pitch. He’s been on another level to anyone at Old Trafford all year long, having a direct hand in 36 goals in 38 games since joining United from Sporting CP in January. 

At this point, the argument Fernandes is the best player in the Premier League is a strong one. Nobody has made more key passes than the Portuguese this season (3.5), not even Kevin de Bruyne (3.1). De Bruyne (3.7) is the only midfielder to have registered more shots than Fernandes (3.0) over the 2020/21 campaign while the 26-year-old has scored just as many league goals in 2020 (15) as Harry Kane and Jamie Vardy.

United as a team revolve around Fernandes to the extent they can’t function without him, as demonstrated by the first half performance against West Ham on Saturday. It’s not just the attacking threat he carries. It’s in the way he makes others around him better. Greenwood, Martial and Rashford are certainly thankful to have Fernandes as their supply line.

In a strict tactical framework, Fernandes wouldn’t have the freedom he has had at Manchester United in 2020. That freedom is key to the way he plays the game, with the Portuguese a force of nature in the ground he covers and the angles he offers teammate. One undervalued aspect of Fernandes’ brilliant is his fitness. His movement on and off the ball is relentless. 

The role Fernandes plays for United isn’t too dissimilar from the one Philippe Coutinho performed for Liverpool, and the latter’s decline after leaving the Premier League raises a compelling hypothetical question. Would Fernandes struggle at a team like Manchester City, where he would have to fit into an existing system, like Coutinho has struggled at Barcelona? 

For this Manchester United team, though, Fernandes is a driving force and a force stronger than any other in the Premier League at this moment in time. Kane has grown into a similar sort of figure for Tottenham Hotspur under Jose Mourinho, with the number nine rolling the duties of a number 10, number eight and number six into his sparkling performances this season, but Fernandes’ displays over the full calendar year put him on an even higher plinth.

Without Fernandes, United would have lost to West Ham on Saturday. They wouldn’t have qualified for this season’s Champions League and Solskjaer likely would have been out of a job by the end of the 2019/20 campaign. The arrival of the Fernandes in January changed the trajectory of the whole club. No Premier League player has enjoyed a 2020 like he has.




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Graham Ruthven
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