Football Features

Bruno Fernandes changes the game as Manchester United beat Villarreal to qualify in the Champions League

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 20:06, 23 November 2021


Bruno Fernandes changed the game from the bench as Manchester United beat Villarreal 0-2 to qualify for the Champions League round of 16.

The Portuguese started the game as a substitute. It was a surprise to see that Michael Carrick, in his first game as interim manager, had chosen to bench the side’s best player, and United’s performance for an hour basically looked like a side missing their best player and leader.

The Red Devils were rudderless in El Madrigal and had Aaron Wan-Bissaka not done such a good job denying Arnaut Danjuma any success 1-v-1, and had David de Gea not made a couple of sterling saves, they would have been put into a very deep hole.

Jadon Sancho was playing well, sure, but no one else was. Cristiano Ronaldo, playing at a ground where he had previously scored 7 goals (and opponent who he had scored on 14 times overall) looked every bit of his 36 years as he ambled about the pitch.

Then in the 66th minute of the game, Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford came onto the pitch for Donny van de Beek and Anthony Martial. And it was like someone had flicked a switch because almost instantly, United took control of the game.


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Fernandes radiates authority and suddenly every Manchester United player looked a step sharper. They were snapping into tackles, blocking off Villarreal runs. Hell, Scott McTominay and Fred who could barely string two passes together previously, suddenly began threading delightful little passes through the Villarreal press.

Fred in particular came to life, and created the opening goal with a fantastic bit of pressing on Etienne Capoue. The Brazilian won the ball back and it fell to Cristiano Ronaldo who came alive, scoring in his fifth straight Champions League game for United by lofting it over the onrushing Geronimo Rulli. His 8th goal at El Madrigal, his 15th goal against Villarreal, and his 140th goal in the Champions League.

Now United were cooking. Every time they were in possession, the threat of Bruno Fernandes’ laser passes behind the lines of defence, finding the outrageous pace of Marcus Rashford and preventing Villarreal from really pushing forward and overwhelming the Red Devils.

 

Everyone was playing better. United’s second goal was a masterful counter-attack where Fred won it back and combined with Cristiano Ronaldo before McTominay released the Portuguese who found Marcus Rashford, who found Bruno Fernandes whose gorgeously deft touch rolled the ball into the path of Jadon Sancho who stepped up and rattled the ball into the top corner of the net. Bang. 0-2. Game over.

Bruno assist also saw him become the first player to register an assist in the first five Champions League games for an English club. And of course Cristiano’s goal had already made him the first player to score in the first five Champions League games for an English club.

Whether or not this was always Michael Carrick’s gameplan on his managerial debut is up for debate, and in truth United were lucky to make it to the hour mark level on the night. But once Fernandes came on, everything lit up.

No matter the goals of Cristiano Ronaldo, or the maverick genius of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes is the best player at Manchester United. He is the leader, the organiser, the heart and soul of the side. When he doesn’t play, United look abysmal. When he does play? Magic often ensues. The Red Devils always look to have a puncher’s chance in any game they play.

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