Manchester United’s 0-0 draw against Wolves proved yet another failed attempt at their quest to finish in the Champions League places come May, despite showing off new boy Bruno Fernandes to the Old Trafford crowd.
It is an ambition that is slowly fading with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side now sitting 6 points behind Chelsea with both teams locked in an intriguing battle at Stamford Bridge after the winter break.
It is now three league games without a win for Manchester United, and three consecutive games without scoring which will prove all the more worrying for Solskjaer and his coaching staff. United’s barren run in front of goal has somewhat coincided with Rashford’s long injury lay off.
The loan signing of Odion Ighalo could provide United with the short term solution they so desperately desire, though that remains to be seen considering their repeated lack of quality when creating chances. The stalemate with Wolves was just another in a long catalogue of unconvincing performances, ones which highlight a failure to break down teams who defend deep against them. No wonder pundits and bookmakers globally including some canadian sports betting companies are offering such dismissal odds on United finishing in the top 6 this season.
It may have been a night to forget for Solskjaer, but it was the performances of new signing Bruno Fernandes which provided a small glimmer of hope for the rest of the season. Thrown straight into the thick of things with only two days spent in Manchester after his move from Sporting Lisbon, the Portuguese gave a telling reminder of his qualities despite United’s failure to break down a rugged and organised Wolves side.
Fernandes had more touches than anyone else (110), made more passes (88), made more final third passes (44) and had the most shots out of any player on the field (5), (according to WhoScored).
Bruno Fernandes’ game by numbers vs. Wolves:
• 88 passes (most on the pitch)
• 44 final 1/3 passes (most on the pitch)
• 5 shots (most on the pitch)
• 5 tackles (3rd most from midfield)
• 3 shots OT (most on the pitch)
A constant threat from range. ? pic.twitter.com/CXEPr0SlKC
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 1, 2020
The new signing isn’t the solution to all of United’s lingering issues, but he is however a huge step in the right direction for Solskjaer as he aims to rebuild an ailing squad. Lining up in the central attacking role in Solskjaer’s customary 4-2-3-1 shape behind Anthony Martial, with Dan James and Juan Mata either side of him, Fernandes constantly looked for pockets of space in between the lines.
Wolves’ well organised 3-4-3 shape halted his influence in those areas. Fernandes’ willingness to attempt the audacious shot or thread a telling pass was clear for all to see. It is a trait that United have sorely missed throughout the season with Paul Pogba’s recurring injury problems.
The Wolves game was a timely reminder of the problems Paul Pogba has faced ever since his return from Juventus. On so many instances, Pogba hasn’t had the support of others around him to effectively have the influence we know he can have. Fernandes invariably suffered from the same misgivings on his debut.
The Portuguese midfielder constantly had to drop deep to instigate play alongside Fred simply because Andreas Pereira lacked the necessary quality to do so. What also did not help Fernandes’ cause was Daniel James’ strange positional sense, rather than holding his position wide left in order to trouble Wolves wing-back Matt Doherty, the Welsh winger constantly dropped inside as a second striker or inside forward with so much of United’s play in front of the Wolves back-line rather than in behind.
Bruno Fernandes constantly had to usher his teammates into correct positions and orchestrate proceedings without any luck, but it was in fact a huge sign of his leadership qualities. A trait he has picked up through his meteoric rise in Lisbon. In order for Fernandes to be an instant hit at Old Trafford, he needs the necessary quality around him. He connected well with Juan Mata on several occasions and even developed a steady understanding with Fred who himself is undergoing a renaissance in midfield.
Fernandes also tried to link with Anthony Martial, though the Frenchman’s inconsistent form and lack of energy could not provide United with the injection and inventiveness they needed. The inaugural Premier League winter break could not come at a better time for Solskjaer and his players.
With a trip to Marbella on the horizon, it will provide Fernandes the ample time needed to develop an understanding of what Solskjaer requires and develop a much better chemistry and understanding with his teammates. Hopefully United will have Paul Pogba to call upon when they meet Chelsea on the 17th of February.
I want Bruno Fernandes and Pogba playing together.
— Liam Canning (@LiamPaulCanning) February 1, 2020
Already fans are awaiting the superstar’s return and cannot simply wait to witness a potentially devastating partnership with Bruno Fernandes.
Could United’s lineup look like this when Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba return from their injuries?
Bruno Fernandes showed the Old Trafford faithful the kind of qualities he could offer the club in their draw against Wolves, but its become evidently clear that in order for the Portuguese international to truly flourish at the Theatre of Dreams, he requires players at a similar level – if not better – for his amazing creative abilities to thrive. Marcus Rashford and Paul Pogba’s return cannot come any sooner.