Where will Bruno Fernandes fit in at Manchester United?

Bruno Fernandes Sporting 2019-20Getty Images

Bruno Fernandes’ versatility will be tested when he begins his career at Manchester United .

He will first have to adjust to a significant jump in quality. While there is plenty of conjecture over the standard of this year’s Premier League, it is evidently a more physical, quicker and technically demanding competition than the Primeira Liga. The intensity of the pressure he will come under from opponents when he is in possession could well be a shock to the system.

Still, one thing that will not change is the sense of expectancy among his team-mates when he does get on the ball. Fernandes was Sporting's most important player; it will be a similar story at United, at least in the short term.

Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba are both out injured for a couple of months, and Marcus Rashford’s attacks from the wings have been curtailed by his recent double stress fracture . There is no attacking impetus left in the side.

For all of Anthony Martial’s improvement this season, he remains inconsistent, and both Daniel James and Mason Greenwood are too inexperienced at the top level to be relied upon to deliver on a regular basis.

In the absence of three vital senior squad members, Fernandes’ role will be to lead the front six.

Harry Maguire is now club captain and David de Gea is an experienced goalkeeper, so there are is no shortage of leaders in defence, but the Portugal international will have to shoulder the responsibility of carrying the team's creative threat.

However, with Pogba and McTominay unavailable, it is not clear what exact role will be expected to play.

Presuming Ole Gunnar Solskjaer intends to stick with three midfielders – a box-to-box player, a deep-lying midfielder and a link between midfield and attack – then, the exact make-up of the side is unclear.

Bruno Fernandes Sporting Lisbon 2019-20Getty Images

It is believed that Solskjaer was reluctant to bring Fernandes to the club last summer because of qualms about his ball retention. That would suggest that in order to mitigate that weakness, Fernandes will be asked to play as a creative player, high up the pitch.

Given he is relatively quicker than most of United’s players, he may find that his central drive gives Juan Mata the chance to revert to his role on the right wing, where he has been most effective over the course of his United career.

Such a set-up would also allow Solskjaer to relegate Jesse Lingard to the bench. The England international has lost the Norwegian's trust this season, yet the manager has still been regularly forced to call upon him.

For now, Nemanja Matic looks likely to be the deeper midfielder given his passing ability and lack of mobility, and Fred’s energy with Andreas Pereira’s youth make them the obvious choices to be asked to do the running.

When United are at something like full strength, then other roles might change, but Fernandes looks like the ideal choice to sit behind the strikers.

A player who can link up between Rashford to his left, and Greenwood or Martial in front of him, would make the most of the players’ technical ability and fleet-footedness.

Too often the side have failed to break down conservative sides, and adding an extra creative player would enable Solskjaer's side to stretch defences, and exploit any small gaps.

There is no guarantee of success, of course, given Fernandes has done nothing to prove his worth yet, but it is a logical signing based on his goalscoring and passing statistics over the last couple of seasons.

Assuming that Pogba and McTominay return to action before the end of the campaign, it could be a little while yet before we see the very best of Fernandes, who should benefit from Pogba's equally pinpoint passing and McTominay's industry.

Scott McTominay Paul Pogba Manchester United 2019-20Getty Images

That is not to say that a midfield three of Pogba, McTominay and Fernandes would not require some fine-tuning. Pogba's positioning could be particularly problematic.

World Cup winner Pogba is the most talented of the three. He loves to both spray passes forward from deep but also drive into the area. However, he has a tendency to dawdle on the ball and invite pressure - so which role would suit him best?

As Pogba is used to excelling for France further back the pitch, it would probably make sense to ask him to play deeper and instruct him to choose carefully when to surge forward.

But there is no obviously correct solution, particularly as McTominay lacks the requisite skill to serve as a defensive midfielder.

The Scotland international is enjoyably full-blooded in the tackle at times, and has the physical stature to impose himself on his peers. His passing, though, is nowhere near the quality of Pogba or Fernandes, so he will likely be asked to provide the running and discipline to allow Fernandes to focus on creating chances.

The one remaining question is what happens to Fred in the long term. Firstly, it does not hurt to have four talented midfielders pushing for three berths. It will reduce the physical demands on them all in what could be a congested second half of the season.

Secondly, Fred and McTominay may become the midfield duo to support Fernandes, should Pogba leave in the summer, as is expected. Given the ebbs and flows of players’ form over the course of the season, it would be a rare treat for Solskjaer to have the chance to pick his best players, rather than simply the ones who happen to be willing and available.

For now, the main thing for Fernandes is that he hits the ground running and lifts the side. If they can start winning again and put pressure on Chelsea, he and the rest of the side will be given the chance to improve in time for next season.

If not, then the club’s slow collapse could bring him down with it.

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Who should be Man Utd's No.9 next season?

  • 41%Harry Kane
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