It’s the 93rd minute of Manchester United’s final game of 2020, and Bruno Fernandes is celebrating – wildly. The Portuguese playmaker has just provided the assist – a lofted ball over the top of the stubborn Wolverhampton Wanderer’s defensive line – that has secured a last-gasp winner for United, sending them second in the Premier League table. Social media lights up after the game, with delighted United fans reveling in Fernandes’ ecstatic celebrations. This was no choreographed dance-off or pointed message to fans that we often see in goal celebrations; it was a man not knowing how to control the joy coursing through his body.
While not yet at Old Trafford for a full year (Bruno Fernandes made his debut on February 1st, against Wolves, incidentally), 2020 was the “year of Bruno” at Manchester United. Sure, there were other stars in what is becoming a very good team, including Marcus Rashford who has been widely praised for his role on and off the pitch. However, Fernandes has been the revelation that United fans have been waiting for since the Sir Alex Ferguson era ended in 2013. Not since a young Cristiano Ronaldo made his debut for the Red Devils back in 2003 has there been such excitement surrounding a United player.
Bruno Fernandes delivering on all fronts
To give you a flavor of the impact Fernandes has had on United, we can look at some stats. In 29 Premier League appearances, he has scored 18 goals (an incredible return for a midfielder) and 14 assists. He has won the Premier League Player of the Month Award three times. To put that into perspective, Ryan Giggs, legendary winger and United’s most loyal servant, won the PotM award just two times in a career spanning over twenty years.
But leaving aside the individual accolades, Fernandes has transformed Manchester United. Since he joined, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men have taken 62 points from 29 games – the most of any team in the Premier League. In the previous 29 Premier League games stretching back to the 2018/19 season, United secured just 36 points.
All of this needs some context, and it’s that many rival fans considered United a laughing stock for the past several years. Sure, they had won competitions like the Europa League, and sometimes qualified for the Champions League. But falling flat in the Premier League allowed fans, especially those who support bitter – and more successful of late – rivals like Liverpool and Manchester City, to indulge in a bit of schadenfreude after two decades of United dominance under Sir Alex Ferguson.
United firmly in title hunt
With each passing match, fewer fans are laughing at United. They are now a respectable 6/1, according to the latest sports betting odds from 888, to win the Premier League. There is still work to do to catch the favorites, Liverpool, and even United fans will admit that they are not there yet. Indeed, the capitulation in the Champions League group stage suggests that the old United swagger is not back. But there is a growing confidence surrounding the club, and the focal point of that belief seems to be to emanating from Fernandes.
A note of caution should be added, however. While United have reaped the benefits of Fernandes arrival, they also tend to over-rely on him. The Portuguese star plays a lot of games, rarely missing any game time through injury. Solskjaer seems reluctant to give him a break; such is the perceived importance of each match. Nevertheless, Fernandes looks inexhaustible and plays with the exuberance of a man who is enjoying every minute.
We will leave the last word on Bruno Fernandes to Paul Scholes, a man from whom praise is always hard-earned. Scholes is never afraid to criticise his old club, and some might even say he has been too harsh on United’s current crop of players. But on Fernandes, Scholes said recently: “He’s better than me. He’s different to me, he scores more goals than me, he creates more goals than me. I’d like to play with him, probably behind him would be alright. What he is doing is phenomenal.” High praise indeed from the man many consider to be United’s greatest ever midfielder.
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