April 23, 2021

Man Utd

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Bruno Fernandes can use Kevin De Bruyne challenge to silence Man Utd critics

4 min read

Fernandes with a point to prove

Bruno Fernandes has nothing to prove to Manchester United fans but given how high his own standards are he may well feel he has a point to prove to himself at the Etihad today.

The 26-year-old has 22 goals and 12 assists in 40 games this season and he’s a shoe-in for the club’s player of the year award once again, but his influence hasn’t been as keenly felt in the biggest Premier League games this term.

That is the only criticism that can be labelled at Fernandes and it’s understandable to a degree. Matches against the big six will always be harder to leave a mark on.

But United’s only goal in seven league fixtures against Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal was a Fernandes penalty and he hasn’t been at his best in a succession of goalless draws.

The onus is probably on others to step up when he has an off-day, but Fernandes won’t see it that way. His battle with Kevin de Bruyne will be a significant sub-plot today and given how driven the Portuguese playmaker is, it’s one he will be desperate to win.

Henderson’s biggest test

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unsure how long David de Gea’s paternity absence would last on Friday, but what we do know for certain is that Dean Henderson will be in goal at the Etihad today.

This will be Henderson’s 14th start of the season and he’s bidding for a ninth clean sheet, but that record shows he’s often faced mediocre opposition.

Henderson has started only three times in the Premier League and while he has faced Manchester City and Liverpool in cup competition, there’s no doubt this is his biggest test yet.

This run of games will be Henderson’s big chance to stake his claim to be United No. 1 and he will embrace the idea of doing that by performing well in a derby day success. The academy graduate will expect to be a busy goalkeeper and after his performance at Selhurst Park he will be confident as well.


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United need a step forward

The drab goalless draw played out in the first Manchester derby of the Premier League season was less than three months ago but the path both teams have taken since then has been instructive.

While United continue to fire blanks in big games, City have combined the defensive steel they had at Old Trafford with a creative streak. The impression is of a team that has stood still since mid-December against one that has taken several steps forward.

City will be bidding for a 22nd successive win in all competitions and their form has rendered the title race an irrelevance in the space of eight weeks. United need to show they’re capable of improvement as well.

Using the bench

Injuries have reduced Solskjaer’s options off the bench recently, but he was late to make changes in the drab draw at Crystal Palace, when Scott McTominay and Daniel James only appeared for the final 16 and 14 minutes respectively.

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Manchester United were held to a 0-0 draw by Crystal Palace on Wednesday night.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his players were frustrated for the third goalless game in succession, dropping more points to allow Man City to streak away at the Premier League’s summit, on a poor day for the forwards.

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The potential return of Anthony Martial should at least give Solskjaer one more attacking option in reserve and if United struggle to pose a threat, as they did in south London on Wednesday, then turning to the bench earlier should be easier to do this weekend.

Top four pressure

On Friday Solskjaer was asked if United could soon feel the heat in the race for a top-four finish and a run of three wins in 10 Premier League games isn’t exactly inspiring.

In truth, United should be protected in the top four by the fact Leicester City look even more vulnerable than they are, but they will want to put any lingering debate to bed.

If they are beaten today it will only increase the pressure on next weekend’s Old Trafford fixture at West Ham. Solskjaer will see finishing second as a very attainable target and he will want United to pull away from the chasing pack, rather than become embroiled in a congested chase for the Champions League places.

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