Man United’s Bruno Fernandes has played in multiple different positions this season but he remains most effective as a No.10.
Bruno Fernandes was mentioned more than any other player during Erik ten Hag’s press conference on Wednesday. The journalists in attendance at Carrington were keen to ask about Fernandes, who received heavy criticism for his second-half performance against Liverpool at the weekend, as the post-mortem from the Anfield debacle continued.
With Harry Maguire spending the bulk of his time on the bench this season, Fernandes has been de-facto captain in his absence, but he acted like a petulant toddler against Liverpool, rather than someone who represents the biggest club in England.
Fernandes’ body language as the team spectacularly capitulated in the second half was unsatisfactory, to say the least, and he drew intense criticism on social media when appearing to ask to be substituted when the sixth goal hit the net.
A furious Gary Neville said on commentary: “Bruno Fernandes is stood in the centre circle with his arms raised asking: ‘Why is it me not coming off?’. Honestly, I have to say some of his behaviour in the second half has been a disgrace.”
After the dust began to settle on the Anfield onslaught, it was revealed Fernandes did not request to be substituted, with sources instead claiming he was seeking clarification on his position after the 85th-minute substitution.
It was therefore not a surprise to see Ten Hag confirm Fernandes would keep his role as captain during his press conference, nor was his defence of the player, who he said ‘is having a brilliant season’ and ‘who gives energy to the team’.
“He’s playing a brilliant season, he’s had a really important role in why we’re in the position where we are, because he’s giving energy to the team, not only running a lot and at the highest intensity but the right way and right direction,” Ten Hag said.
“He’s pointing and coaching players, he’s an inspiration for the whole team, but no one is perfect, everyone makes mistakes.”
Ten Hag is right, Fernandes has been exceptional all season, but was he utterly anonymous at Anfield and it was telling that he gained more attention for complaining than for his contribution on the ball throughout a disastrous 90 minutes.
The player’s attitude was disappointing but he did not get involved in the contest with the ball and perhaps Ten Hag should take a portion of the blame for that, as he started Fernandes on the left side of the attack, where he was hopelessly ineffective.
Antony started on the right, Marcus Rashford played through the middle, Fernandes started on the left and Wout Weghorst started in attacking midfield at Anfield, which Ten Hag finally conceded was not working in the 58th minute.
Fernandes has said ‘he will play wherever Ten Hag wants him’ this term but starting him on the left wing tested that statement. He has played in that position in just a handful of appearances during his career and there’s good reason for that.
The Portuguese international is considered among the world’s best No.10s and he is not comfortable on the left wing. Fernandes has sometimes been asked to play on the right wing, but his relocation at Anfield felt like a step too far.
Fernandes has started six games, including in the Manchester derby victory in January, on the right this season and Ten Hag lavished the praise on him after that 2-1 win, but he remains an objectively better player in attacking midfield.
Although his numbers – four goals and seven assists – have not been electric when starting as a No.10, Fernandes is now a more accomplished, all-round midfielder than he previously was and he is still the catalyst for creativity in that role.
There is no debate about where Fernandes should play: It’s as a No.10. The player has performed well in games on the right when the question has been asked of him, but when Antony and Sancho are fit, he should always start in midfield.
Fernandes has made that position his own and it’s within the team’s best interest to play him there as much as possible.