Football Features

Manchester United batter Brugge as Bruno Fernandes proves that he’s the elite playmaker they have been waiting for

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 22:18, 27 February 2020

In a thrilling night of football, Manchester United destroyed Club Brugge 5-0 with Bruno Fernandes starring.

The Red Devils looked set to sign Fernandes in the summer but appeared to have second thoughts, then even in January it was never certain they were going to move for the Portuguese playmaker until the deal was actually done. They did finally get their man, and his start has been so good that we’re already at the “what if they had signed him earlier?” stage.

Bruno Fernandes has been at Manchester United for less than a month and yet it’s not an exaggeration to say he’s already amongst their best five players this season and should he continue to play in this manner, he will likely end 2019/20 as their player of the year.

That sounds like absurdly over-the-top praise but honestly if you’ve not watched United with Fernandes and United without him then you couldn’t understand. It’s like somebody flicked a switch and turned them off and back on again.

With Fernandes playing, United look refreshed and reinvigorated. They play with a thrust and purpose that makes them an actual threat to teams, even teams that sit deep to block them out.

It doesn’t matter who is the side’s main attacker; Anthony Martial or Odion Ighalo… the tempo and control set by Fernandes means that United will be potent. With Fernandes pulling the strings even unreliable players like Juan Mata seem full of life again.

Club Brugge couldn’t live with Fernandes at all. In Bruges he had a short cameo and unleashed hell – but the game was already petering out so all he did was bump up United’s shot count. But here he was in from the start, and poor Brugge were made to reap the whirlwind.

Bruno Fernandes had United playing with a ferocious intensity. They pressed high to pen Brugge back in their own half, they moved the ball slickly to prevent the Belgian side from getting set in their defensive positions, and they all moved off the ball when Fernandes had it.

All season long United have lacked someone able to play killer passes between the lines of opposing defences, or in behind opposing defences. Paul Pogba has been out injured and they’ve been so prosaic as a result, but Bruno Fernandes had them all reciting poetry.

The Portuguese killed Brugge with his passing. Mata, Daniel James and Odion Ighalo were all constantly in motion because they were aware that Fernandes could and would find them. The pace was relentless and Brugge couldn’t keep up.

With 20 minutes gone a chipped pass into Fernandes saw him delightfully backheel a first-time pass into space where James shot at goal. Simon Deli handled the ball and a penalty was given. Fernandes stepped up and just as he did at the weekend slotted calmly home. 1-0 on the night and Fernandes became the first Portuguese United player to net in consecutive games since Nani eight years ago.

Fernandes continued to keep the pressure high, then less than 10 minutes after scoring his penalty he twisted and turned on the edge of the box before looking up and scooping a delicious pass in behind the defence for an onrushing Juan Mata. The Spaniard squared it to Odion Ighalo for a tap-in, and will thus get the assist but Bruno Fernandes was the architect of that goal.

The third goal which again came less than 10 minutes later again began with Fernandes, as he pressed a Brugge pass and flicked it casually to Fred who squared the ball for Scott McTominay to smash home. 3-0 and game over before half-time.

The second-half began with United in full control and so Bruno Fernandes was subbed off just after the hour mark to a standing ovation. His final numbers read 4 shots and 3 on target (game-highs), 6 chances created (a game high when he left the field, surpassed by Juan Mata), 2 tackles, 2 dribbles, 1 second assist and of course 1 goal.

But more than the raw numbers was the sensation of it all. Manchester United are confident again, Manchester United are potent again, Manchester United are fun to watch again and it’s all thanks to Bruno Fernandes.

They say the mark of a great playmaker is how he improves those around him, and United were improved so much by Fernandes that even after he went off they carried on playing to an extremely high level and bagged another couple of goals.

This meant that Manchester United have scored five goals in Europe for the first-time since 2013. It took a long time to bring him to Old Trafford but there is no doubt that Bruno Fernandes is the elite playmaker that United have been waiting a long time for.

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Results round-up:

  • Braga 0-1 (2-4) Rangers: After the comeback heroics of last week, the second-leg was more mundane although first-leg hero Ianis Hagi still managed to miss a penalty before setting up Ryan Kent to seal it for Steven Gerrard’s men.
  • Espanyol 3-2 (3-6) Wolves: A Wolves side without certain key men exchanged blows with Espanyol all night long in an open and enjoyable contest. Adama Traoré scored on his return to Barcelona and Pedro Neto somehow missed an open goal as an impressive Jonathan Calleri hat-trick won the game but not the tie for Espanyol. Wolves’ European adventure continues!
  • Istanbul Basaksehir 4-1 AET (5-4) Sporting: Edin Visca scored in stoppage time to force extra-time where he again left it late, converting a 119th minute penalty to send Sporting crashing out.
  • Porto 1-3 (2-5) Leverkusen: Kai Havertz bagged two assists and a goal to secure a massive away win for Peter Bosz’s men.
  • Basel 1-0 (4-0) APOEL
  • LASK 2-0 (3-1) AZ: Marko Raguz bagged a brace to power LASK through. The 21-year-old has now scored LASK’s last four goals in the competition including all of them vs. AZ.
  • Malmo 0-3 (1-5) Wolfsburg
  • Gent 1-1 (1-2) Roma: A Justin Kluivert equalise proves enough to send Roma through to the round of 16.

  • Ajax 2-1 (2-3) Getafe: Jaime Mata’s 5th minute away goal was enough to bury Ajax. Last season’s semi-finalists fought back to win on the night but they couldn’t get the two more goals they needed.
  • Celtic 1-3 (2-4) Copenhagen: Odsonne Edouard’s penalty (and 25th goal of the season) looked to have Celtic and Copenhagen heading to extra time but two goals in three minutes gave Copenhagen a surprise upset win at Celtic Park.
  • Sevilla 0-0 (1-1) Cluj
  • Inter Milan 2-1 (4-1) Ludogorets: Cauly’s early goal turned the tie on its head but two goals in first-half stoppage time from Cristiano Biraghi and Romelu Lukaku put things beyond doubt.
  • Benfica 3-3 (4-5) Shakhtar: An absolute wild ride in Lisbon. Benfica took a commanding lead at the start of the second-half, but Shakhtar fought back and goals from Stepanenko and Alan Patrick drew things level on the night and gave the Ukrainian side an aggregate lead.
  • Arsenal 1-2 (2-2) Olympiakos: A thumping Pape Cisse header from a Mathieu Valbuena corner gave the Greek side a victory over 90 minutes and forced the tie to extra time. There, with just a few minutes to go, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang overhead-kicked Arsenal into the lead but right at the death Youssef El-Arabi punished some terrible defending to give Olympiakos a history win on away goals.