It has been no coincidence that Manchester United’s current unbeaten run first transcended with arrival of Bruno Fernandes.
The Portuguese international has completely transformed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side, with no Premier League signing producing quite the instant impact in recent times.
Operating in the final third, Fernandes has occupied the role as the advanced playmaker. United have longed for such a figure in the middle of the park in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era, with his creativity transitioning the side’s attacking blueprint.
Since arriving, the club have won eleven of Fernandes’ fourteen starts. Since project restart, United have won five of their six games, with the 25-year-old featuring in each.
His newly established partnership with Paul Pogba has been an influential factor behind such success, with the two forming one of the most dangerous midfield duos in the country. Having two creative figures in the middle have granted United’s frontrunners to maintain a higher position in the final third, as opposed to dropping deep and clustering the central zones.
No opposition has conjured a plan to keep either player quiet since the restart, particularly given Bruno’s movement. As the advanced playmaker, Fernandes is granted a licence to drift around the final third, with the double pivot of Pogba and Nemanja Matic providing balance to such an attacking set-up.
Next up is Southampton, where all eyes will be on the Portuguese superstar again. A win for United will see them leapfrog both Leicester and Chelsea into third position, prompting the likelihood that we will see yet another unchanged XI.Embed from Getty Images
The Saints will arrive at Old Trafford in strong form, winning three of their last five, most recently impressing and dominating the game at Goodison Park.
Fernandes and co will not alter their recent gameplan though, which relies on getting the ball into advanced positions, quickly, and with authority. The former will play a key role in such, particularly given Ralph Hasenhüttl’s tendency to operate with the 4-4-2 formation.
This system allows for their two strikers Danny Ings and Che Adams to cause havoc up-top, but it does leave their midfield exposed. The Saints set-up with just two in the midfield, leaving space for the advanced figure of Fernandes to potentially dictate.
Against Aston Villa, as ever, the 25-year-old was integral to United’s shifting of the ball inside the final third. As per WhoScored’s touch map below, Fernandes’ work predominantly came in the opposition’s half, pinning back their side and enforcing them to drop deep.
A double pivot will likely struggle against the creative figures of both Fernandes and Pogba, who have ruled reign against midfield threes and fours. Southampton will likely instruct their wide-players to come narrow and restrict such space in the middle, but United’s full-backs can then hold the width.
Their overlapping runs have recently played a fundamental role in Solskjaer’s offensive plan, but such movement and freedom can always be rooted back to Fernandes. His continuous movement and occupying of the half-spaces makes him an impossible figure to track, and he is able to get United ticking through such a style of play.