Manchester United desperately need to address their issues in midfield – a 2-0 defeat at Liverpool on Sunday followed by another at home to Burnely in midweek made the obvious even clearer – and, despite the obstacles that have popped up lately, the acquisition of Bruno Fernandes remains the logical first step.
United balked at Sporting CP’s valuation of the midfielder in the summer and subsequently ruled out a move for him, but while both parties seemed likely to compromise in January, a second stand-off has ensued.
Persistent injury concerns for wantaway midfield star Paul Pogba had already rendered the Red Devils light in the middle of the park but with Scott McTominay sidelined as well, they must sign reinforcements.
Leicester City’s James Maddison is widely regarded as United’s chief target in the summer but the signing of Bruno would significantly bulk up their midfield at present and boost their chances of a top-four finish.
Here, we analyse the dynamic Portuguese midfielder and highlight what he could add to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side using wyscout‘s extensive database.
It’s been a rollercoaster season for United who have enjoyed some fantastic results mixed in with deplorable performances. Their best has seemingly been reserved for top-six opposition while they’ve tended to struggle against lesser teams that employ an effective low block.
Their failure to break teams down has cost them several points and that’s the first area in which Bruno can help improve the team.
The Sporting star ranks second in the league for key passes (16) and assists (6). He’s always looking for an opening and is not afraid to attempt ambitious passes. In Pogba’s absence, United have sorely missed that.
With the pace they possess in attack, they boast a huge threat in behind defences but the runs of their forwards have often gone to waste. A lack of quality in midfield has starved these runners of service but Bruno has the vision to spot runs early and the quality to execute a pass behind the defence.
In this instance against Moreirense, the Sporting midfielder has drifted wide and no immediate danger is apparent when he receives possession from his defender. There’s an easy pass in field that’s on but Bruno has already spotted Luiz Phellype on the move, about to run down the blindside of the centre-back.
He plays a sumptuous pass around the back-line with the outside of his right boot which sends the striker clean through on goal.
Against Gil Vicente, Bruno gains possession in a central area and sees his team-mate coming back from an offside position.
But he anticipates the movement and as soon as the runner darts back in behind, the ball is played over the top, leading to a shot on goal.
This next example, from the same game, portrays his creative nous from a much deeper position. While the ball is being rolled into him, well inside his own half, he has two looks over his shoulder for Wendel on the left flank.
He releases him with a fine, early ball over the top of the defence for the Brazilian to score.
Even when the opposition is sitting exceptionally deep, Bruno uses his crosses to unlock the defence, not too dissimilar to the ploy Manchester City has utilised with Kevin De Bruyne in recent times.
Bruno targets that inside right channel and whips crosses in once the opportunity to do so is fashioned.
Against Santa Clara, Bruno moves into that space as soon as the ball is spread wide to right-back Stefan Ristovski.
Once he receives possession within that pocket he’s entered, he crosses early towards the back post where Phellype is unable to keep his effort on target.
In the same game, the ball is rolled back to him on the right flank and he whips in a cross first-time that Yannick Bolasie attacks at the far post.
The cross isn’t always on though and Bruno recognises that. Against Moreirense, he gets on the ball in that inside right channel but doesn’t deliver it in early.
He fakes a cross, checking back in before rolling a clever pass along the edge of the box for Luciano Vietto to strike.
GOALS FROM MIDFIELD
Bruno has scored nine goals from outside the box in Primeira Liga since 2018/19 which is more than any other player. So even when it’s difficult to break down the opposition with penetrative passes, the Portuguese is capable of pulling the trigger from range – the one he scored against PSV Eindhoven in November stands out.
But when it comes to his overall goal tally, his efforts from range are only the beginning. He registered an astonishing 32 goals in all competitions last season and already has 15 this term.
He is known to time his runs into the box well and has often featured as a second striker owing to his pedigree in front of goal. Bruno likes to shoot early but is comfortable with either foot so he isn’t averse to taking his time to open up the angle even on his weaker left side.
67 - Since the start of 2017-18, when Bruno Fernandes joined Sporting CP from Sampdoria, he has been involved in more goals than any other player in the Portuguese Primeira Liga (67 goal involvements: 39 goals, 28 assists). Adored. pic.twitter.com/l8s6ZOvBY6— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) January 14, 2020
United look threatening on the break and Bruno thrives in those situations as well. His eye for an early pass and ability to execute it can bring the best out of a rapid front line.
His quick-thinking can help transition the ball from midfield to attack in the blink of an eye. Against Moreirense in this instance, he’s under pressure on the halfway line when the ball is played to him.
However, he reacts quickly to spin his man, showing excellent awareness and balance.
There is an end product as well though as he goes on to release a forward in behind the defence.
OFF THE BALL
Juan Mata has shown lately that he’s still got great quality in the final third when afforded time but he’s too easily bypassed and doesn’t get around the pitch enough. Bruno on the other hand has bags of energy and will contribute immensely on the other side of the ball as well.
He is competent with his tackling and will always track back when needed. In the derby against Benfica, a loose ball was played to an opposing forward but Bruno reacted quickly.
He recovered it brilliantly to snuff out the danger, making an excellent sliding tackle.
It’s that sort of endeavour that will please Solskjaer who is an advocate of having the attacking players put pressure on the opposition. In the league, Bruno has recovered the ball in the opposition’s half 3.5 times per game this season.
In a clash against Santa Clara, he takes up a good position as the full-back attempts to bring the ball out from the back.
He limits the space for him to run through and then stabs the ball away from him, winning possession.
Marcus Rashford has assumed responsibility for penalties and free-kicks at United but there was a bit of a crisis in that department early in the season. The Red Devils missed three attempts from the spot in quick succession.
Bruno has only failed to convert penalties only twice in 22 attempts throughout his career, offering a solid option.
The same holds true for free-kicks. United are yet to score in the league from a free-kick this season. During his time with Sporting, he’s scored seven times from direct free-kicks.
United haven’t scored directly from a corner in the league at all this season and Bruno’s deliveries could be a significant step up from that of Fred’s. Nine of his 48 assists in club football have come from corners.
While Bruno’s stats over the last couple of years are hugely impressive, the caveat remains that they were racked up in the Portuguese league. Whether he can replicate those performances in the Premier League is an understandable concern.
Otherwise, Bruno is also known to lose possession often. His pass accuracy of just 77.4 per cent in the league this season leaves a lot to be desired. However, rather than surrendering the ball carelessly, it’s his penchant for risky, forward passes or crosses that hurts his completion rate.
In this instance against Vitoria Setubal, he spots a little gap between the centre-back and full-back and attempts to thread the eye of the needle with a near impossible pass.
He nearly completes it brilliantly but the full-back is able to stick his leg out just in time to cut it off.
This next scenario demands another inch-perfect pass. He tries to bend a pass around the Moreirense back-line but the centre-back intervenes.
It’s worth noting though that De Bruyne – widely regarded as the best central midfielder in the world and operating in a possession-based system – only boasts a pass completion rate of 79.4 per cent in the league this season, marginally better that Bruno’s.
Statistically, it’s the price a playmaker of that calibre and responsibility pays to create sufficient goal-scoring opportunities.
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