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With the help of the Portuguese coach Carlos Carvalhal, Adam Bate evaluates the strengths of Bruno Fernandes and how they could help solve the greatest weakness of Manchester United
Last update: 11/02/20 8:32 am
Bruno Fernandes' debut for Manchester United offered an idea of what he can contribute to the club. The Portuguese midfielder made more passes than anyone in the field in the draw with Wolves in Old Trafford and also had the most shots. But the goal would not come for United. That is the reminder that you have joined a team that needs fixes.
United's five shots in the first half came from outside the 18-yard area. Fernandes can help with that. Shooting from a distance is something he is used to: 114 of his 180 shots in the Portuguese league in the last two seasons come from outside the area.
But shooting from better positions is the optimal solution and the ball is working in the penalty area that has been the biggest problem for the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer team.
"In the first half no one moved in front of him, everyone wanted the ball to stand up and nobody got behind it, we just played out of his box," Solskjaer said. "His creativity is one of his strengths. He can see passes and play passes. But we need to move around him."
Even in the 1-0 victory against Manchester City in the second round of the Carabao Cup last month, United lacked in this regard. "Sometimes we identified them and played deeply and they stayed out of their box and defended themselves, but we couldn't create those opportunities, those moments," Solskjaer acknowledged, reflecting on that game later.
This was most obvious in the accumulation of the Nemanja Matic red card. Luke Shaw and Fred had the opportunity to put the ball in the box, but chose to play it safe. Brandon Williams was happy to retain possession as well. Anthony Martial had deviated anyway.
The city surrendered possession, Matic committed the fault and hope was lost. Ultimately, United has lacked the ability to knock down a low defensive block and opponents now know it. The Solskjaer team has had fewer shots from within the penalty area than Brighton and Aston Villa, let alone the four teams that currently occupy the Champions League places.
Fernandes could make a difference here.
The midfielder has created more opportunities for short passes than any other player in the Portuguese league in each of the last two seasons. Solskjaer already made it clear that he wants more of the same. "Be yourself, don't change your character, try to raise the ball and make things happen," he said about Fernandes upon arrival.
The initial signs are positive. Fernandes played 10 passes in the area against Wolves, the largest number of United players. By context, the United player with the highest average number of passes to the table for 90 minutes this season is Juan Mata with 6.2. Paul Pogba averages 4.0. Fernandes is not someone who is afraid to risk playing that killer pass.
"It was great," Daniel James said about his new teammate. "With the balls he played behind and, for me, if we can get that link, especially playing behind, I think it will be great."
Against Wolves, United had seven different pass sequences of 10 or more that ended in a shot or touch within the penalty area. If that doesn't sound remarkable, consider the fact that United managed seven of those sequences in the first seven games of the Premier League season set.
Fernandes could be the man to improve the construction game of United.
Carvalhal verdict on Fernandes
That is the opinion of Carlos Carvalhal, a coach who knows Fernandes well and faced him twice this season as manager of Rio Ave in the most important division of Portugal. Rio Ave won both games against the Fernandes sports team, although the midfielder scored each time. However, Carvalhal points out that there is much more to his game than goals.
"It's not a No. 10," he says Sky sports. "He is a midfielder, but he has developed that ability to break the defense line to score goals. Shoot, assist, passes and free throws. But he is not a 10, he is an 8. He is a box-to-box player who understands the game is very good. Not only does it play, it understands everything that happens around it.
"You can organize the team, you can talk, you can give feedback. It's like a manager in the field. You can organize things in the last part of the field. He's a really exciting player. He has been the best player in the Portuguese league for a minimum of two years.It is in that group of players that are among the best in the world.
"Sometimes, these technical players, it's their quality in the defensive transition that is a problem in the Premier League. When they lose the ball, they don't react fast enough to recover it, but it has developed a lot in the past two seasons
"When his team loses the ball, he reacts quickly to recover it. That's important in England. He is not lazy, it's the opposite. A fighter. He has everything to be a key player."
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This is an important point. Fernandes has been acquired to offer something different, but the expectation is that it has the qualities to contribute, even if the goals and assists do not flow. It has energy, covering 11.3 kilometers against Wolves, making more clearance than any United player and more tackles than his other midfielders. He will fit too.
"It will adapt very easily, in my opinion," adds Carvalhal. "I know that when I say this there is always the risk that the player does not agree. But when I look at a player like him, I can say it because he went to Italy as a teenager and was playing at a very high level." The characteristics of the player they tell me it will be easy for him. "
Transforming United's fortune will not be so easy, but Fernandes can only do his part. The team will not be less hardworking because of its presence and a more creative unity with it. If it will be enough to push the Solskjaer team that gets a little closer to the first four, it could be clearer after their match against Chelsea in Monday Night Football.
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