Bruno Fernandes’ fourth Player of the Month award meant he is the first player in the Premier League era to win the award four times in a calendar year. Just 12 months into his English football career, the Portuguese international is not only breaking records but also amplifying Manchester United’s resurgence as a title contender.
Bruno signed for Manchester United in a £47m deal from Sporting Lisbon, at a time when the English giants were struggling with their worst start to a Premier League campaign (34 points after 24 games) since 1992/93.
All that, however, changed as soon as he was slotted into the playing XI, and one could see a visible transformation in a team that hasn’t commanded authority since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. By the end of the 2019/20 season, Bruno had registered eight goals and seven assists in a mere 14 appearances.
The 2020/21 campaign has seen Bruno Fernandes take things up a notch, as he has now scored 11 goals and assisted seven times in 18 Premier League games. No other midfielder in the history of Manchester United has produced such numbers, and while he features on the team sheet, almost everyone can bet on a Bruno special.
How does Bruno make United look dangerous?
The last couple of years saw Manchester United lack a number 10 in the midfield. The return of Paul Pogba in 2016 echoed the possibility of the Red Devils bringing back their attacking brand of football that was missing in recent years, but his positioning during the tenure of Jose Mourinho has a different tale to speak altogether.
However, Bruno Fernandes’ arrival brought about a fresh outlook to the midfield. The playing strategy under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has also improved to the point Manchester United is currently at the top of the table.
Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd in the Premier League this season:— Squawka Football (@Squawka) December 26, 2020
◉ Most passes into the box (116)
◉ Most chances created (44)
◉ Most through balls (7)
◎ Most possession lost (291)
Ole Gunnar Solskjær knows Bruno's risk are worth taking. 🎯 pic.twitter.com/5u8znLborS
The Red Devils commanded pass completion rates of 82.9 and 83.1 (stat till gameweek 19), and the Portuguese star has completed 1363 passes at a rate of 72.3. Additionally, United have averaged 668.5 touches per game in the eight league and European games since Fernandes arrived from Sporting.
In terms of their goal output, United scored 36 goals in the first half of the 2019/20 season, but their scoring rate improved after Bruno’s signing with 30 goals in 13 games. The Portuguese contributed with eight goals, and seven assists as the 20-time Premier League winners finished third at the end of the season.
How does Bruno fare against Salah and De Bruyne?
Ever since Bruno Fernandes signed for Manchester United, football fans and pundits were quick enough to draw a competition between Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne and Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah. Without any doubt, this three-player rivalry is the most significant source of entertainment in the Premier League, apart from the race for the Golden Boot.
32 - Bruno Fernandes and Mohamed Salah were directly involved in the most Premier League goals in 2020, however the Portuguese had 32 combined goals and assists in four fewer appearances than Salah. Catalysts. #OptaReview2020 pic.twitter.com/aMb7gQUwki— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 31, 2020
In the whole of 2020, Salah had 32 direct goal involvements (23 goals, nine assists), followed by Bruno’s 31 goal involvements (18 goals, 13 assists) and De Bruyne’s 24 goals (6 goals, 18 assists). Judging by these numbers, the former Sporting captain has cemented his position as one of the best players in recent times.
In terms of assists, Kevin De Bruyne scripted history as he notched 20 assists in a single season in the 2019/20 season and has already stacked 10 assists this term. On the flip side, Bruno is quickly rising to the front as he has matched last seasons’ tally of seven assists and is well-placed to add to the count.
The atmosphere has changed on the pitch
Bruno Fernandes has been a regular feature in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s matchday squads, and with the team playing formations like 4-2-3-1, the Old Trafford faithful can notice how the team is thriving on the pitch.
⚠️ | QUICK STAT— SofaScore (@SofaScoreINT) November 7, 2020
After his goal against Everton, Bruno Fernandes has now recorded 21 goal involvements (12⚽️ & 9 🅰️) in his first 21 Premier League matches for Manchester United.
No other Red Devils player recorded more than 12 EPL goal involvements in that time span.#EVEMUN pic.twitter.com/jZmyustOUE
Paul Pogba, often criticized for failing to live up to his price tag, is now thriving alongside the Portuguese in the midfield setup. The likes of Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood are also pushing through with more attempts on the goal.
In the past, the United teams under David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho never had a motivator to get the team on track. In Bruno Fernandes, the Red Devils now have a player whose hunger for victories and trophies energizes the club’s atmosphere and is slowly turning into a club icon just 12 months into life in England.
Comparisons with Cristiano Ronaldo
With his fourth fourth Player of the Month award, Bruno Fernandes equalled former United winger Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally and is now, perhaps, on course to better his compatriot’s legacy at the club.
4 - Bruno Fernandes has won Premier League Player of the Month for the fourth time in seven months in the competition - as many as times as Cristiano Ronaldo. Only Agüero (7), Gerrard (6), Kane (6), van Persie (5) and Rooney (5) have now won it more. Inspired. pic.twitter.com/suoT3TKixD— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 15, 2021
In his six seasons in Manchester, Ronaldo was a revelation and became one of the chief catalysts in the club’s dominance in the 2000’s. In Bruno’s case, the 26-year-old has quickly climbed up the performance charts and is earning praises from former players like Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Bryan Robson who have been critical of the team’s performances in recent times.
With Bruno Fernandes, Manchester United are a team that is just fractionally below Liverpool on the points table and as the best Premier League player in 2020, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the playmaker leads United to their first league title since 2013.
Feature Image courtesy: AFP / Michael Regan