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Why Liverpool need a Bruno Fernandes-style signing this summer

08:00 BST 13/05/2021
Bruno Fernandes Jurgen Klopp Virgil van Dijk Liverpool Manchester United GFX
The Reds have seen their Premier League dominance evaporate this season but one quality player could change everything for Jurgen Klopp's team

The party felt as if it could go on forever.

There was Mo Salah, shirtless in front of the Kop. There was Alisson Becker, sprinting 90 yards to join in the fun. 

There was Jurgen Klopp, beaming smile, fists pumping. Happy, relieved, conducting the orchestra.

There were Liverpool, top of the table and strolling to the title. Back on their perch.

And there were Manchester United, the fallen giant clinging to the past like a bitter ex-spouse. Fifth in the league, 30 points off the summit and taking “positives” from a 2-0 defeat at the home of their fiercest rivals. 

Feels a lifetime ago, doesn’t it? And yet it is less than 16 months since those wild celebrations at Anfield, since the Kop finally felt safe enough to sing about winning the league. When you’re 16 points clear with a game in hand, you can afford to take the odd risk.

It’s a different world now, that’s for sure. Football has a strange way of bringing you back down to earth with a bump, and having clinched the Premier League in such dominant fashion last season, Liverpool’s fall this term has been both rapid and painful.

The worst could yet be to come, too. The Reds arrive at Old Trafford on Thursday knowing a defeat, or even a draw, would probably spell the end of their Champions League qualification hopes.

And in a way, wouldn’t that just be the most fitting finale to this most miserable of campaigns?

It was bad enough for Liverpool fans needing a favour from United on Tuesday, when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side took on Leicester.

The fact United lost the game, beaten 2-1 having made 10 changes to their starting line-up, made matters even worse. Dancing with the Red Devils, you could call it. Either way, it didn't feel right.

There will be no favours on Thursday, of course. Solskjaer may have grown up a Liverpool supporter but there is no team he would rather beat these days, and the chance for United to hold their great rivals’ heads underwater a little longer will certainly appeal to the Norwegian. 

Solskjaer knows, as Klopp knows, how quickly fortunes can change at the top of the Premier League. One minute you’re flying, the next you’re falling. 

These two teams are a case in point. United were 33 points behind Liverpool last season and 31 adrift in 2018-19, and yet they arrive into this game 13 clear of their old enemy. It is they, and not the reigning champions, who have been the ‘best of the rest’ behind Manchester City.

Whether they are better placed to compete with Pep Guardiola’s side in the coming years, however, is up for debate. They have certainly improved, but by how much? And is Solskjaer, the man who was downplaying their chances when they were top of the table in January, really the man to take them to that next level?

What is undeniable, and something that Liverpool can take heart from, is that, as Jamie Carragher said, things are rarely as bad as they can seem at a big club, and that one or two results, and one or two smart signings, can change the whole mood.

In United’s case, it was one signing. Bruno Fernandes arrived in Manchester 10 days after that 2-0 defeat at Anfield last January, and the Portuguese’s impact since has been immense. It is he, as much as Solskjaer, who has driven that team forward.

His numbers are staggering. In 49 Premier League appearances for United, Fernandes has scored 25 goals and provided 18 assists – a remarkable tally, even allowing for the record-breaking number of penalties he has netted this season.

More than that, his presence has changed the mindset of Solskjaer’s side. He is positive, he is demanding, he takes risks and he gives reassurance to those seeking inspiration alongside them. Harry Maguire is United’s captain, but Fernandes is their leader, the one they look to more than any other.

They didn’t just add a high-class footballer when paying an initial £47 million ($66m) to Sporting CP, they brought in an elite mentality as well. And that has been something sorely lacking as the dynasty of the Sir Alex Ferguson era faded.

It is no coincidence, for example, that United have won so many points from losing positions this season, or indeed that they have been awarded so many spot-kicks.

Those are traits of a Ferguson team: daring, threatening, lucky at times, convinced of their superiority even when below par. Solskjaer’s side still have some way to go, but they look like they’re on the right track at least.

As for Liverpool, they may well need a Fernandes of their own, if they are to bounce back from this season’s disappointment.

Not necessarily a free-scoring attacking midfielder, per se – although that would certainly help – but a top-quality summer signing (or two) that can inject some life and confidence into a side that has suffered, that can lift the spirits of fans and players alike. A mood-changer, if you like.

Klopp might argue that Virgil van Dijk will do that. The Dutchman’s return from injury cannot come soon enough, for sure, and we have already seen the effect he can have on this team.

It was he, as much as anyone, who turned Liverpool from contenders into winners after his arrival on Merseyside in 2018. He, like Fernandes, is a leader, through performance and through mentality.

But while Van Dijk’s return will be significant, and those of Jordan Henderson, Joe Gomez and Joel Matip similarly so, perhaps the bigger questions surround Liverpool’s summer recruitment.

They have spaces to fill, in defence, midfield and attack, and getting those signings right, particularly if they do end up missing out on the top four and the financial benefits that brings, will be key.

What we can say is that things at Anfield are certainly not as bad as they appear. This has been a season like no other, in more ways than one, but it won’t take much for Klopp to get the Reds back on track.

Who knows, maybe the road to recovery will start at Old Trafford this week?