Over the past nine days, we have seen the best and worst of Manchester United. We have also seen the best and worst of Bruno Fernandes too. Both he and United were at their lowest during their Anfield annihilation, but much better in their midweek win over Real Betis. Sunday’s draw with Southampton was a day in which both underperformed yet showed slight shimmers of promise within their resilience. What has been apparent this season is that the form of Fernandes has largely reflected that of the team, with United’s heaviest defeats coming in matches when he has himself been off the boil and impressive wins coming when he has played a key role. Read next: Southampton manager gives verdict on red card Even on an off-day, he still plays an integral role for the team, and against Southampton, he remained a key creative outlet despite his overall poor performance. The Portuguese remained a regular threat whenever he got on the ball, though he struggled to influence the game as much as usual from his deeper midfield role. He made two key passes, created two big chances, and demonstrated the ugly side of the game with nine ball recoveries and three successful ground duels. United’s switch to a more attacking midfield set-up rarely made them a more threatening side, and although they always looked dangerous with an extra forward player to utilise, they suffered from a lack of cohesion and an overall idea about how to play. Ten Hag’s pursuit of fluidity backfired, as players drifted out of position, overcrowded the same areas of the pitch, and struggled with the lack of clearly defined roles. It was perhaps no clearer than with Fernandes who naturally looked to play with the same freedom he relishes as an attacking midfielder, but that then left him exposed defensively against a well-drilled midfield. In hindsight, it is much easier to find fault with the selection, but United’s makeshift set-up didn’t make any sense, given that it played into Southampton’s strengths as a team with a talented midfield of their own. United will now need to find another temporary solution with Casemiro set to serve a four-match domestic ban, and central to that will be the role Fernandes plays. The 28-year-old deserves huge credit for his versatility this season and has demonstrated what a team player he is by being so willing to adapt his role for the greater needs of the team. There have been times when this has been needed, and it has worked to perfection; however, it has probably happened too often, and Fernandes is sometimes overlooked as a brilliant attacking midfielder that should be central to their approach. Gone are the days when the entire side was built around the Portuguese playmaker, something that has benefited both him and the overall cohesion of the team, though United are not guilty of not utilising him regularly enough in his best position. Given the interest in deploying Jadon Sancho in a central position, it’s easy to see why Ten Hag used the home match against Southampton as an opportunity to experiment, but dropping Fernandes further back rather than playing him on the wing was a mistake. United’s issue going forward is that without the suspended Casemiro and the injured trio of Marcel Sabitzer, Christian Eriksen and Donny van de Beek, they will likely need to rely on another makeshift midfield in the coming days. It means they might well need to ask Fernandes to fill in elsewhere again, but he has already made a strong argument that it should be an attacking role he occupies. Fernandes remains one of United’s most influential players; they need to give him what he needs to stay that way. Next up: Ten Hag explains why he substituted Garnacho Garnacho leaves Old Trafford on crutches Antony and Martinez make their feelings known after Casemiro’s red card Which games will Casemiro miss after red card The latest United news Story SavedYou can find this story in My Bookmarks.Or by navigating to the user icon in the top right.
Manchester United paid the price for Bruno Fernandes mistake
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