Bruno Fernandes has been a dream signing for Manchester United since arriving a year ago. He has 38 goal contributions in 38 Premier League games.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s clear preference is to continue leaving Fernandes as an entrenched starter in nearly every game in the attacking midfield role.
When it works this well, why change it? It’s understandable why he would keep it as it is.
However this lack of flexibility does have its drawbacks. Ask Jesse Lingard, who had to leave the club on loan to get a kick, having played a total of zero Premier League minutes over the first half of the season.
There is a growing queue of players stuck behind Fernandes who could play the number 10 role, and this is not even counting loaned out Lingard, and Juan Mata, who could be in his final season at the club.
Donny van de Beek is one player who has felt the impact of Fernandes’ outstanding form. He has only two Premier League starts all season.
Solskjaer told his press conference this week he saw Mason Greenwood as a ‘number 10’, yet its hard to see him getting a chance with Fernandes dominating game time in a similar role.
Youngster Shola Shoretire has impressed in this same position lately for the under-23s, while Hannibal Mejbri has also featured in this role. Their chances are each limited by Solskjaer’s reliance on Fernandes.
Switching Fernandes back could provide a solution
One solution available to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is to switch Fernandes back into a deeper midfield role, more reminiscent of Paul Scholes.
This would open up an attacking midfield position for Van de Beek, Greenwood, Shoretire, Mejbri and Mata to all compete for. And each of them would have the benefit of having Fernandes playing behind them.
Fernandes has played in this role before. Way back on his debut against Wolves, he featured in a deeper position due to a suspension for Nemanja Matic, while Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay were out injured.
The key to success here is finding the right combination. Is a duo of Fernandes and Paul Pogba too attacking? Probably.
This may be a conversation for when Pogba inevitably leaves.
Fernandes could however form a more cohesive partnership alongside Fred or Scott McTominay. The key to getting the best out of Fernandes in this role would really be to sign an elite defensive midfielder.
A player akin to Wilfred Ndidi could offer an ideal balance. Fernandes has an all round quality to his game, likes to get stuck in, but United need a top defensive midfielder alongside him to help him out.
Former Sporting boss Carlos Carvalhal told Sky Sports a year ago: “He is not a number 10. He is a midfielder but he has developed that ability to break the line of the defence to score goals.
“He shoots, he assists, the passes and the free-kicks. But he is not a 10, he is an 8. He is a box-to-box player who understands very well the game. He doesn’t just play. He understands everything that happens around him.”
United have pushed him forward into a number 10 role over the past year and the results have been impressive. But in terms of helping out the rest of the squad, there are clearly a number of players who could benefit from Fernandes playing deeper.
Fernandes is at United for the long haul, and it makes sense his role could evolve.
United of course have to be careful that by changing his position, the team don’t blunt the team’s top creative threat in the process.
At the same time, this could also make United better. If you have Fernandes at two-thirds of his current goal output, and allow Van de Beek, Greenwood, Shoretire or Mejbri to contribute on a consistent basis, the sum of the parts could be superior to United’s current offering.
As Solskjaer plans ahead for United’s future, it’s clear Fernandes is going to be central to the team’s success. But his exact role may shift. Solskjaer must be open-minded to change.
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