It had been billed as the Cristiano Ronaldo show, but by full-time, Portugal’s passage to the World Cup was all about his Manchester United compatriot.
Bruno Fernandes has experienced somewhat of a strange season at Old Trafford, in which his role in the line-up has been questioned despite his undeniable game-changing ability. His brilliant brace di lui on Tuesday night served as a timely reminder of exactly what he does at his best.
His case has not been helped by the change of formation since Ralf Rangnick was appointed interim manager, with Fernandes still trying to adapt his game to work as part of a midfield three rather than the previous attacking midfield role he was allowed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Another struggle for Fernandes has been coming to terms with the fact that he is no longer the superstar in the team and he has had to once again operate in the shadows cast by golden forward Ronaldo.
READ MORE: Bruno Fernandes set to sign new Manchester United contract
It is true the 27-year-old is not affecting matches quite as often as he did when he first arrived at the club, though that is more so a reflection of United’s overall demise this season rather than a specific criticism of a talisman who has now been asked to do a different job.
For a perceived drop off in form, it is still important to note that Fernandes has registered 49 goals and notched 40 assists since he joined United in January 2020. He has been overdue for a contract extension ever since that maiden season ended.
Since he made his debut for the club, the Portuguese playmaker leads the way among Premier League midfielders with the most goals, most assists and most chances created – surely a worthwhile trade for the amount of times he loses possession and tries the impossible.
For context, the United attacking midfielder has conceded possession an average of 18.8 per 90 minutes this season, the same amount as Andrew Robertson, while Trent Alexander-Arnold does so 24.6 times a game. Kevin de Bruyne does it 15.5 times for 90 minutes. To be a great creative player, you have to roll the dice.
So often, those spontaneous risks have paid off for the former Sporting Lisbon star, even if some of his decision-making this season has seemed like a gambler’s fallacy rather than a genuine belief that it’ll work.
Fernandes is set to finally be rewarded with a new contract in the coming weeks, a warranted renewal in order to reflect his importance to the United side and a signal of the key role he will play in the future, no matter who the next manager is .
With fellow midfielder Paul Pogba set to leave, it is clear Fernandes will have a huge role to play for United next season as he looks to guide them through another period of transition. A new contract extension is evidence the club is backing him to do just that, while it is also a message to the new manager that they must find a way to get the best out of a flawed genius who possesses world-class talent.
By committing the best years of his career to a new five-year deal, there is also evidence of his own belief in the long-term ambitions of the club, something which will need to be backed up by their appointment of the right manager this summer.
Fernandes’ brilliance and the success of United have gone hand in hand ever since he joined the club, and if they are ever going to mount a serious title challenge, then getting the best out of him will be essential.