Full Match - Aston Villa 6-1 BrightonSep 30
“Take good care of our boy, Manchester United” was the tweet from Sporting CP’s official Twitter account as Bruno Fernandes completed his £47million to Old Trafford in the final days of the January transfer window.
They had good mind to wish him well. United’s record of “taking care” of their high-profile signings since Sir Alex Ferguson departed seven years ago has been extremely patchy.
Angel Di Maria – signed for £60m, sold a year later. Romelu Lukaku – signed for £75m, sold two years later. Alexis Sanchez – signed in a swap deal, sent out on loan 18 months later.
Of those who have remained at United, Anthony Martial, Fred, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire, all appeared weighed down to varying degrees by the cloud hanging over the club.
Paul Pogba, the club-record signing, has made just 10 league appearances this season after a slow return from injury. “Everyone knows he wants to leave,” his brother said in February.
That is until now. Fernandes’ arrival has brought the sunshine back to Old Trafford.
The midfielder arrived at a club who’d been booed off the pitch following a 2-0 home defeat to Burnley two days earlier with Maguire struggling badly for Chris Wood’s opener. It was United’s fourth defeat in 10 matches and the second match in a row they’d failed to score a goal.
United since Fernandes joined are top of the Premier League form table with 18 points from their last eight matches and a goal difference of +13.
They are unbeaten in 15 games in all competitions with only Bayern Munich enjoying a longer run without defeat in all of Europe’s top five leagues. United are fifth - just two points behind fourth-placed Chelsea in a season where fifth could be enough for Champions League qualification.
Since Fernandes’ debut in the goalless draw with Wolves, United’s defence - marshalled by Maguire - has conceded just two league goals in eight games.
Martial has netted six in seven league games and is “playing with a smile on his face” according to his manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer while the offensive side to Wan-Bissaka’s game is starting to match his defensive abilities.
Fernandes has scored or assisted eight goals in his first eight Premier League matches for United
Fred has turned his United career around from flop to key midfielder and reports have emerged that Pogba now wants to extend his stay at the club to play alongside Fernandes.
But how has one player had such a transformative effect on Solskjaer’s men? Fernandes arrived with a big reputation for scoring goals, and lots of them, in Portugal.
From midfield, Fernandes had netted 33 goals in his last full season in Lisbon and had bagged 15 in 28 matches in all competitions this season before making the switch to Manchester.
And he’s made the transition from the Primeira Liga to the Premier League look seamless. Fernandes has scored or assisted eight goals in his first eight league appearances for United including a brace in Tuesday night’s 3-0 win at Brighton. Only BT Sport pundit Robin van Persie has had more after eight games of his United Premier League career.
Despite concerns over his suitability as a No 10, Fernandes is thriving in Solskjaer’s 4-2-3-1 system in front of a two-man midfield base.
The Portugal international has established a great understanding with his team-mates already and a midfield three with Fernandes, Pogba and Scott McTominay or Fred is an enticing prospect.
United are a free-flowing, exciting team suddenly and 3-0 wins in each of their last two league matches will remind supporters of the good old days under Ferguson.
As well as goals and assists, Fernandes is doing his defensive duties for the team too. He made three tackles against Brighton to take his total to 16 in addition to eight interceptions in the league since signing.
In seven of his eight United matches, Fernandes has taken home the club’s Man of the Match award and won the Premier League Player of the Month award for February – his first month in England.
And Solskjaer believes his new midfielder, who won three trophies in his final two seasons in Portugal as well as the UEFA Nations League with his country, can bring silverware to the club.
“He has brought that winning mentality with him, that 99% is not good enough – it has to be 100%,” Solskjaer said after the game.
“Bruno can create chances where there's no space - a little flick around the corner; he's been very good with his back to play.
'Paul creates too; they're both creative players who can pick a pass, players with individual qualities. To be a centre-forward in front of these two is a joy. I've felt that myself playing with Paul Scholes, Juan Sebastian Veron, David Beckham, Ryan Giggs... it's a nice position to be in.'
For Pogba, for Solskjaer and for whole of Manchester United, Fernandes has been a saviour. Sporting needn’t have worried - United haven’t taken care of Fernandes, Fernandes has taken care of United.
Watch Bruno Fernandes in action for Manchester United exclusively live on BT Sport this weekend as Bournemouth travel to Old Trafford on Saturday afternoon from 2.30pm.
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