Bruno Fernandes: How Man Utd gloom has been lifted by the Portuguese midfielder
When Bruno Fernandes arrived at Manchester United, he joined a team which had been jeered off by their own fans in a home defeat by Burnley days earlier.
It was the low point in the club’s season, their fourth defeat in seven Premier League matches.
The atmosphere at Old Trafford was called “toxic”, the performance an “embarrassment” and United’s squad was “the worst in the last 30 years” after that result on 22 January.
But just one signing later, United are a side transformed. They are the league’s form team in the eight matches since Fernandes’ arrival and the doom and gloom has lifted completely.
A vibrant, free-flowing style is emerging under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer – with Fernandes at its heart.
Against Brighton on Tuesday the 25-year-old midfielder – dubbed the “Portuguese magnifico” by supporters – scored twice in a 3-0 win, including a brilliant volley to maintain his side’s charge for Champions League qualification.
The former Sporting Lisbon man was full of life in his 64 minutes on the pitch, linking well with Paul Pogba, but showing his defensive capabilities too with three tackles, gaining possession back twice.
“Fernandes could have played 10 minutes and I would have given him man of the match,” former England international Karen Carney said on BBC Radio 5 Live. “He is just so exquisite and it has been a privilege to watch him play. The difference he has made to this Manchester United team is unbelievable.
“I think Manchester United need another centre forward but that midfield is exciting. Fernandes is fantastic and I was gutted he went off.”
In the 12 games in which he has featured in all competitions, United have won eight and drawn four, scored 28 goals and conceded just four.
Since his debut in February, Fernandes has been directly involved in more goals in all competitions than any other Premier League player, with six goals and four assists.
United lie two points adrift of Chelsea in fourth and three behind Leicester in third, who they face on the final day of the campaign in a match which may prove be a shootout for a Champions League spot.
But their victory at Brighton did take them fifth, which would be enough for a Champions League place if Manchester City’s ban from European competition is upheld.
“We are fighting for a place in the Champions League and we know we can achieve this,” said Fernandes.
Solskjaer was under increasing pressure following the loss to Burnley in January and said after that game his side “were not good enough” and “lacked ideas”.
His words were quite different after their dominant win at Brighton.
“They have reason to be confident because they are playing fantastically,” Solskjaer told BBC Sport. “There is quality in that team, our players are fit and we have competition for places now.
“I’ve got more than one game-changer, we have some top players and Bruno has come and been fantastic. He has brought that winning mentality with him, that 99% is not good enough – it has to be 100%.
“It’s a joy to watch them when you see them express themselves like that.”