Bruno Fernandes – High risk, high reward
Bruno Fernandes hasn’t changed much since his debut season at Manchester United. He nearly single-handedly assumed the mantle of creativity and served as the impetus for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tactical framework.
Picking up from where he left off last season, the Portuguese international has started every game in the Champions League and Premier League for United, and this isn’t just due to his exceptional fitness levels, but also because of his importance to how Solskjaer seems to want his team to play.
Manchester United’s number 18 has 4 goals and seven assists in 16 appearances in the UCL and PL. He scored his first hat-trick for Manchester United in the first game of the season before shifting to a more creative role where he makes fewer runs into the box.
Role in Manchester United’s setup
Bruno is crucial to United’s play both in and out of possession. He is responsible for creating goal-scoring opportunities for teammates as well as being a direct goal threat as a number 10 and the team’s main creative centerpiece.
United’s main attack paths haven’t changed much from last season, as they continue to try and leverage the left flank as often as possible, even though Marcus Rashford, their primary threat in that area, hasn’t played in most of the games this season. Fernandes takes up positions between the lines all the way to the half-spaces.
He’s always looking for space, which is why he frequently drops deep, dragging a defender out of position to create space for a teammate or giving himself room to pick a pass or shoot from a distance. It’s what makes him such a threat and why defending against him is so difficult.
When Bruno is in the space between the lines, he poses a direct attacking threat. As he occupies positions just outside the box, it nearly always results in a goal-scoring opportunity or a goal because he has the choice of passing or shooting when he’s not closed down immediately, both of which are very realistic options for a midfielder.
He also sets himself up to get a shot at goal because of the positions he occupies, scanning the area before receiving the ball. Hence, he usually knows when a player is coming to close him down before he gets the ball, whether it’s on the half-turn or with his back at goal.
Because he doesn’t aim to confine his movement to central areas, his versatility gives the team various passing options as he gets into great positions out wide and in the half-spaces.
Fernandes constantly looks to pass the ball as soon as he gets it. That’s why he’s not even in the top 50 for completed successful dribbles in the league. He is a pure output player who does not retain the ball for long periods and releases it as soon as he receives it, which also takes a dent in his pass completion rate.
It may be a crippling flaw for any other player. Not for Bruno. He is aware of his strengths and weaknesses, which is why he frequently plays to his strengths and has become indispensable to the squad because of his high-risk, high-reward style of play.
This approach to the game pays off a lot of the time. He makes 3.5 key passes per game, which puts him ahead of Liverpool’s Trent Alexander-Arnold and Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne, who make 3.3 and 2.0 key passes per game, respectively. He is also joint third in the league in terms of big chances created, with only Mohammed Salah and Alexander-Arnold creating more.
When it comes to shot-creating actions, he is in the 93rd percentile with 5.17 per 90 across all competitions, and he often makes 10.91 passes per game when under pressure, putting him in the 99th percentile. In this area, he is simply the best.
His passing ability is among the best in the world, but stats don’t often reflect this narrative because he “loses” the ball often. His high-risk style does not come without its drawbacks, but his output more than makes up for it. The squad is nearly always guaranteed a big chance when Fernandes is on the pitch.
Fernandes has completed the most through balls in the league, with 11 in total and a 0.57 per 90 average across all competitions. He makes very precise and well-refined passes into the box, creating good chances by completely eliminating the defensive line, which can only be a result of great vision and high confidence because some of the passes always seem impossible.
Contributions in defense
Bruno is fitness personified and will not hesitate to make a tackle or track back to assist a teammate in the backline. While Solskjaer’s system assigns the double pivot the majority of defensive responsibilities, it doesn’t prevent Fernandes from dropping deep, even when he is already in a very high position, and the team loses the ball in the middle.
With 9.77 pressures on the ball per 90 minutes, he is one of the top attacking midfielders in the world when it comes to pressing. However, only 26% of the time are these pressures effective.
Compared to players in similar positions, the Portuguese international averages 1.34 tackles per game, putting him in the 96th percentile. He is both reactive and proactive, pressing relentlessly for 90 minutes.
Fernandes has already established himself as one of the best players in the world. He is a direct goal threat and a creative force for the front line when he is on the ball. His versatility in positioning, as well as his fast thinking and uncanny vision, make him nearly impossible to defend against, and teams have learned to close him down as soon as he receives the ball. This, however, does little to stop him because he can move out wide and into the half-spaces, making him difficult for defenders to track.