After potentially the longest short-haul flight in history, recorded at a staggering six months in duration, and aboard a plane with a seemingly limitless supply of fuel in the tank, it appears Bruno Fernandes may finally be ready to touch down in Manchester.
Air-traffic control seem to have finally given the all-clear for the pilots to begin landing and hopefully Fernandes will be suitably dressed for the North-West in January, having originally been expected to disembark in the summer.
Recent reports of the transfer being completed have been coming in thick and fast from ever more reliable outlets and if proved to be true, the timing could not be better considering Manchester United’s current injury woes, not to mention the lack of quality in central midfield. So, what exactly will the Portuguese playmaker bring to Old Trafford and how will he improve the side?
The 25-year-old is an exciting attacking midfielder who would be an ideal player to inject some much-needed creativity into the middle of United’s side, acting as an effective conduit between defence and attack. Previously this was the job of Paul Pogba, although, with his recent injury lay-off and the widely acknowledged belief that it is likely to be his last season at the club, the role will fall solely to Fernandes.
United’s other current options in this area have left much to be desired, particularly after Jesse Lingard’s woeful 2019 where he failed to register a goal or an assist. Andreas Pereira has performed well there in flashes but is clearly not at the level required and Juan Mata’s role is as a bit-part player in his twilight years.
Fernandes’ impressive stats for Sporting CP, though obviously to be taken with a slight pinch of salt due to the differing styles of play in the Liga Nos and the Premier League, are certainly not to be bulked at. The Sporting captain won the Primeira Liga player of the year award for the last two seasons running and it is not hard to see why when his numbers are so far ahead of anyone else in that league. In 2018-19, his record was 20 goals and 13 assists in 33 games, that’s a goal involvement every 89 minutes and there were only nine games in which he didn’t score or assist a team-mate. He has carried that form into the first half of this year’s league campaign and has eight goals and seven assists from 15 matches, with a similarly impressive record in the Europa League group stages.
Although United managed to strengthen their defence in the summer, the need to do the same in midfield has been abundantly clear, not least in games where United are being shut out and require someone with that spark who can change a game in an instant. Fernandes is adept at shooting from range and dangerous from direct free-kicks, two aspects of the game in which United do not currently possess a persistent threat from and haven’t for some time. He also brings versatility and can play effectively from the right or left, as well as in a more withdrawn central role, thus allowing Solskjær to set up in multiple formations depending on the opponent or what style of play the game calls for.
Too often this season we have seen Victor Lindelöf and Harry Maguire pick up the ball in defence looking to break through the lines, but with Fred and Scott McTominay being marked there has rarely been a player in front of those two willing to create another passing option or make a quick movement to receive the ball in central areas. Fernandes is a player who constantly wants to be involved and always gives an outlet, also very effective at dribbling and keeping hold of the ball in tight areas, perfect attributes for linking play between the lines. The Portugal international also excels at making attacking runs from midfield, almost in the mould of a second striker who will interchange well with a centre-forward and make runs ahead of them to burst through on goal himself.
It could be argued that going for someone who is already proven in the Premier League in Fernandes’ role would be a better move, but players like James Maddison and Jack Grealish would cost considerably more and United’s track record with acquiring Sporting Lisbon alumni hasn’t been too bad thus far. It may be a risk to go for Fernandes in terms of him taking time to settle into the pace of the Premier League, but he certainly has all the right attributes and would surely add a great deal of quality to a United side who are currently lacking in this specific area.
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