Manchester United are going through the most challenging period in the club’s modern history.
Under-pressure manager Erik ten Hag is fighting tooth and nail to avoid being sacked, which he could’ve already faced if his captain Bruno Fernandes wasn’t there to throw him a lifeline.
The Portugal international came under heavy scrutiny following a frustrating performance in a 3-0 derby defeat to Manchester City, but it was unjust.
It’s hard to blame the world-class 29-year-old playmaker for letting his emotions get the better of him when it’s become clear that he’s among rare Man Utd stars aware of the value of the red shirt.
Fernandes has been perhaps the only bright spot in otherwise dreadful times for the Red Devils, with sporadic interference from the recently criticised Marcus Rashford.
His stoppage-time winner at Craven Cottage inspired United to an all-important 1-0 win over Fulham last weekend and offered a perfect response to unfair criticism.
Numbers speak for themselves, which could be among the leading reasons behind Fernandes’ outburst in the Manchester derby.
Since the start of 2023, the Man Utd captain has completed more key passes (109) and created more ‘big chances’ (28) than any other player in the Premier League. His numbers this year are world-class, yet support around him is non-existent.
With three goals and two assists, he has had his hand in 42% of United’s top-flight goals this term, unequivocally illustrating his significance to this team.
However, despite his utmost effort to drag his side out of crisis, the Portuguese playmaker only has two league assists to his name in 2023/24 thus far.
That’s hardly his fault.
Rasmus Hojlund’s superb Champions League form has gone some way in justifying his exorbitant price tag. But his inability to replicate those high-level performances in the Premier League remains a problem.
Having in-form Rashford by Fernandes’ side provided a backbone for Man Utd’s top-four finish last term. However, the Englishman’s inexplicable decline has hung his ‘partner in crime’ out to dry this season.
At this point, it’s virtually impossible to expect one-dimensional Antony to fill Rashford’s shoes. The Brazilian seems to be dealing with personal issues of great magnitude.
Whatever is going on behind the scenes affects his performances on the field. He has come nowhere near the standard ten Hag had hoped he could reach when splashing out a small fortune to sign him from Ajax.
Jadon Sancho’s days at Old Trafford are numbered, while Alejandro Garnacho, with all due respect to his burgeoning talent, is still insufficiently equipped to handle Premier League challenges.
On that basis, Rashford’s return to form cannot come soon enough.
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