After just one training session with his new Manchester United teammates, Bruno Fernandes was named in the starting lineup for the Red Devils' clash with Wolves on Saturday.
No more rumours claiming the Manchester-based side were closing in on his signature for the 1,437th time. No more suggestions that he was set to feature in his final Sporting CP match.
The deal had been officially confirmed. I
We'll file this under things we love to see pic.twitter.com/fIV9p2ijuB— Manchester United (@ManUtd) January 30, 2020
The Portuguese was driven to training on Friday by Diogo Dalot, where he took part in his first session as a United player. The following day, he was named in the starting lineup for the tussle with Wolves.
In recent weeks, fans have voiced their opinions at Old Trafford (and outside), with tensions rising over the running of the club. However, it was a different story before kick-off on Saturday. As Fernandes' name and number were called out, the stadium erupted to welcome their new number 18.
Ultimately, it was another game without scoring for Man Utd, while it was also another opportunity missed to close the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea. It should've been another disappointment.
However, despite the end result, Fernandes was a shining light, picking up United's Man of the Match award. The Portugal international played the most passes of any player on the field (88), while he also played the most passes in the final third of the pitch (44).
Of course, Bruno has forged a reputation in recent times as a major goal threat, having managed to find the net 32 times, while also providing 18 assists in all competitions last season. He also managed a staggering 29 goal involvements in just 28 appearances this term for Sporting CP. We've heard this all before, haven't we?
Considering it was his debut for Manchester United, he would have been forgiven for perhaps playing somewhat conservatively, but such is his character, he continued to play the same way he always has done. He was constantly looking to make things happen, while also not shying away from trying an audacious pass or long shot.
Bruno Fernandes’ game by numbers vs. Wolves:— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) February 1, 2020
• 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
Indeed, it was clear to see. Fernandes attempted five shots, which was, again, the most of any player that match. Not only that, United's first three shots on target that game came from the former Sporting man.
Far too often this season, United fans have been crying out for one player to have a go, to try their luck from distance and to test the goalkeeper. However, they were given a reason to get excited each time Fernandes was on the ball. Three of his five shots were on target, with his fizzing drive from the edge of the area and a curling free-kick the closest he came to opening the scoring for his side.
And while two of his efforts weren't on target, it was the willingness and hunger to get his shot away that made fans get up onto their feet and raise the volume inside the stadium.
Fernandes began the game in the attacking midfield role, but was soon dropped back into a deeper-lying position, but his ability to drop deep and provide cover while also acting as the main creative spark was hugely impressive. Fans will be quick to highlight his long shot and his eye for goal, but defensively, he was resolute in his work. In fact, only Aaron Wan-Bissaka made more tackles for United than the new recruit, with Fernandes making five challenges.
Most notably, he raced back to prevent a cross from reaching its intended target. Equally, he also dropped in to protect the defence before picking up the ball and driving forwards at pace. His composure was world-class, not panicking when an opposition player came charging in, instead playing a crisp pass to a teammate.
His range of passing and vision is exceptional, constantly playing balls into the path of other United players, encouraging them to stride forward with it. His passing accuracy stats may not have set the world alight, but this is down to his desire to play positively, while he also played a number of pinpoint through balls, which were simply not anticipated by other members in red.
Anyone else notice how Bruno Fernandes was playing with these players for the first time and was literally instructing them of where to move, what passes to make, who to pass to etc? He’s a level above so many others around him.— The Man Utd Way (@TheManUtdWay) February 1, 2020
Elsewhere, Fernandes has often been described as a 'leader', having captained Sporting. Immediately, against Wolves, despite having been at the club just one day, he was dictating to players, telling them where to go and what to do.
The midfielder was seen emphatically signalling to Fred, encouraging him to play the ball out to the right, which the Brazilian eventually did. As they came out for the second half, the pair were also deep in discussion.
Fernandes was also seen pulling Daniel James over for a word, pointing to where he should run so that he can play the pass. United fans have witnessed a lot of slow, sideways football this season and their struggles to break down so-called lesser sides have become well documented, but it will have been hugely refreshing to see their new signing instructing his teammates what to do in order to get in behind the low block.
Make no mistake about it, he is an outstanding player and while his debut may have ended in another goalless draw for United, he showed the promise of being a player who can elevate the Red Devils away from those kinds of results in the future.