Wed. Oct 21st, 2020

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Man United summer signing might unlock new role for Fernandes

4 min read

Manchester United’s slow movement in the summer transfer window is only made more frustrating by the fact their recruitment policy has been near-flawless under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer so far.

As part of United’s recruitment overhaul the club set themselves criteria of achieving a 70 per cent hit-rate in the transfer window, it is fair to argue the success rate is beyond that.

A year on from Solskjaer’s first transfer window as permanent manager and the first three recruits are holding up well. Harry Maguire is the best defender at the club as well as the captain, Aaron Wan-Bissaka is arguably the best defensive right-back in the Premier League and even despite recent poor form Daniel James is a decent squad player and justifying his £15million price-tag.

The January deal to sign Odion Ighalo on-loan remains a sensible one, although his hefty extension to that deal does look rather redundant given his recent performances. Yet, at very worst he is at least an extra body up front and a credible alternative when Anthony Martial needs a rest.

However, perhaps the two most convincing deals so far have been the two permanent ones this calendar year as United reinforced their squad with creative midfield duo Bruno Fernandes and Donny van de Beek.

Fernandes arrived at United six months too late and hindsight shows why he should have been prioritised as Ander Herrera’s replacement last summer. The 26-year-old was named the fans’ player of the year as he guided United to a third-place finish in the Premier League, but you sense it might have been better had he completed his move half-a-season earlier.

The Portuguese midfielder has been involved in 17 goals in his 16 Premier League games for United (9 goals, 8 assists) but it is also important to highlight the overall lift which he has given the rest of the first-team squad.

Juan Mata is one such beneficiary with the Spaniard looking revitalised now he has a fellow midfielder that is on his same wavelength in the squad. The addition of Van de Beek has only amplified the creativity even further, and it has given Solskjaer a healthy selection dilemma to make.

The Norwegian has already been asked countless times how he will fit Van de Beek into his midfield alongside Fernandes and Paul Pogba, and hinted on Wednesday night it could be in a wider role.

“He’s a different type of left-sided player compared to Dan James and Marcus Rashford but coming inside and finding good pockets why not, he can play loads of different positions, which sometimes is a strength for a player,” Solskjaer said.



Donny van de Beek celebrates with Bruno Fernandes after scoring on his debut

However, there might be another way to include him into the midfield set-up, by dropping Fernandes a bit deeper and allowing him to occupy the solitary attacking midfield berth.

Some supporters might be rolling their eyes at the prospect of Fernandes in a deeper midfield role, but it was one Solskjaer was advised on doing by the Portuguese’s former mentor Carlos Carvalhal.

“He has very good deliveries in free-kicks, makes very good assists, he’s an athlete,” the former Sporting Lisbon manager warned back in January. “He’s not a number 10, he’s an eight in my opinion, he’s a worker, a box-to-box player.

“He also reminds me of Joao Moutinho, who I had at Sporting. I think Bruno Fernandes is different, because he has more goals, but they have something in common – they understand the game very well. He is very organised, he is always talking.”

With genuine competition in the first-team squad there is now significant pressure on every midfielder to constantly prove their worth if they are to even make it into the match day squad. United’s summer business means one of the creative midfelders along with two of Nemanja Matic, Fred or Scott McTominay will be missing from most starting XIs this season.

Each selection will take into account opposition and who occupies the defensive midfield role, but in certain situations there is clearly an argument for all three of the maestros to be on the pitch. Fernandes remains the benchmark at Old Trafford for any midfielder to match, but with Van de Beek flawless so far Solskjaer might need to consider a slight change to his tactical approach to get them both on the pitch.

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