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Sunday, February 25, 2024

Man Utd’s record with and without Bruno Fernandes –

Virginia Borges likes to joke that she knew her son would be a footballer before he was born. Little Bruno was “kicking all the time” throughout her pregnancy.

In adulthood, Bruno Fernandes’ legs have scarcely been given any respite. The divisive figure who arrived at Manchester United from Sporting CP at the start of 2020 has barely missed a game. Across multiple years since switching Lisbon for Lancashire, the players’ union FIFPro has flagged Fernandes as the most frequently used footballer on the planet.

However, there have been fleeting occasions when United have been forced to take to the field without their talisman capable of a temper tantrum. Here’s how the Red Devils have fared in those sporadic instances.

Man Utd’s record with Bruno Fernandes

Bruno Fernandes is Manchester United’s creative hub / Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/GettyImages

Competition Games Wins Draws Losses Team goals
Premier League 140 75 32 33 227:165
Champions League 18 7 3 8 38:33
Europa League 25 16 6 3 53:19
FA Cup 14 9 2 3 26:16
EFL Cup 10 7 0 3 18:8
Total 207 114 43 50 362:241

Fernandes has featured in 95% of Manchester United‘s matches across all competitions since his arrival in January 2020. Effectively, United’s fortunes have been his and vice versa.

It all started so well. Fernandes didn’t lose any of his first 17 appearances in a United shirt, directly contributing to 16 goals in this sequence as the team’s new attacking linchpin. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s flawed side had the fleet-footed forwards to hare up the pitch in transition and Fernandes’ high-volume, high-risk approach to ball progression perfectly suited this style.

“He’s definitely a brave boy. He sees the pass,” Solskjaer said of the dynamic number ten. “Sometimes I might tear my hair out and say that there’s an easier pass … but you can’t take that away from Bruno. You want him to be the X-factor.”

The delicate balance of United’s risky strategy began to tilt away from Solskjaer’s control after the summer of 2020. Yet, Fernandes was the driving force behind a team of individuals that just about kept the former treble winner in a job. Never was this more evident than United’s trip to West Ham United’s London Stadium in December 2020. Trailing 1-0 at the break with Fernandes on the bench, Solskjaer turned to his Portuguese saviour to inspire a second-half comeback.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s arrival ahead of the 2021/22 campaign coincided with a dip in form for Fernandes. The legendary but leggy Portuguese veteran lacked the pace or discipline to work alongside Fernandes – or in any modern team – and by November Solskjaer was gone. Ronaldo followed a year later after United slumped to sixth at the end of his debut season. Only once in the past three decades have the club ever finished lower in the league table.

Erik ten Hag emphatically sided with Fernandes over Ronaldo, making the former his skipper after elbowing his compatriot out of the door before the World Cup. For all of the criticism that flies Fernandes’ way – the effusive midfielder is often a lightning rod during United’s defeats – Ten Hag has been unwavering in his support.

“I don’t understand it [the criticism],” Ten Hag shrugged after Fernandes scored the only goal of the game in a November win over Fulham. “Everyone makes mistakes and no one is perfect, but he does very good things. He shows every time that he is an example as a captain.”

Man Utd’s record without Bruno Fernandes

Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes, Alfredo Morelos

Bruno Fernandes (bottom right) rarely spends any time on Man Utd’s bench / Michael Steele/GettyImages

Date Competition Result
05/08/20 Europa League Man Utd 2-1 LASK
30/09/20 EFL Cup Brighton 0-3 Man Utd
09/01/21 FA Cup Man Utd 1-0 Watford
23/05/21 Premier League Wolves 1-2 Man Utd
08/12/21 Champions League Man Utd 1-1 Young Boys
30/12/21 Premier League Man Utd 3-1 Burnley
12/03/22 Premier League Man Utd 3-2 Tottenham
06/11/22 Premier League Aston Villa 3-1 Man Utd
10/01/23 EFL Cup Man Utd 3-0 Charlton
20/04/23 Europa League Sevilla 3-0 Man Utd
26/09/23 EFL Cup Man Utd 3-0 Crystal Palace

Somewhat surprisingly, United have a considerably better record without their captain in the team. Without Fernandes pulling the strings, United win more games (73% to 55%), score more goals (2.0 per game to 1.7) and concede fewer (1.1 to 1.2).

Yet, to take those raw numbers in isolation is almost gross negligence.

Fernandes has missed less than a dozen matches in almost four years with the club – that is a laughably small sample size from which to gain any relevant information. The opposition United have faced during Fernandes’ rare absences skews the data as well.

Almost half of United’s breaks from Bruno have come in the early rounds of cup competition against opponents the club have predictably defeated.

The Portuguese playmaker has been remarkably durable during his time in northern England, missing just one Premier League game through fitness issues; an illness ruled Fernandes out of United’s 3-2 victory over Tottenham in March 2022.

Suspension has been a more pressing concern for Fernandes of late and United have felt the pinch of his enforced absence. An accumulation of yellow cards compelled Fernandes to sit out United’s away trips to Aston Villa and Sevilla last season – they were convincing dismantled in both games.

On each occasion, the visitors appeared bereft of attacking impetus without their creator-in-chief and wilted in front of hostile atmospheres.

On Unai Emery’s debut in the Villa dugout, United recorded their lowest xG of the season thus far without Fernandes, slumping to a convincing 3-1 reverse. Four days later, Villa travelled to Old Trafford and lost 4-2, with Fernandes scoring and creating half of the hosts’ triumphant haul.

Sevilla’s Sanchez-Pizjuan stadium was practically shaking for the second leg of their Europa League quarter-final last term. Played to an unrelenting backdrop of bouncing white shirts in the stands, Fernandes watched his teammates get bullied into a 3-0 defeat. The victorious manager Jose Luis Mendilibar was not wrong when he surmised: “It went well for everyone, we won 3-0 against Man Utd, without too many scares.”

Ominously, United’s next match without Fernandes is a trip to Liverpool’s Anfield home.

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