On January 22nd, Manchester United lost 2-0 at home to Burnley, leaving fans incensed.
It came just three days after being beaten by champions-elect Liverpool and capped a run of just two wins in seven matches. Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s reign was coming into question and it seemed that he would need numerous new signings to get the Red Devils back on track.
With just three wins in eight Premier League matches, the club looked to be tumbling out of Champions League contention, lacking goals and creativity in crucial matches against the likes of Watford and Arsenal. Then, on January 31st, something remarkable happened.
As reported by the BBC, United secured the signing of Portuguese midfielder Bruno Fernandes for a fee believed to be around £47m. Fernandes joined from Sporting Lisbon, where he had 64 goals in 137 games. However, a weak spell with Sampdoria in Italy suggested he might have trouble adjusting to the complexities of one of the biggest leagues in the world.
Instead, he completely revolutionised the Man Utd attack in one fell swoop. The often-toothless United attack seemed to finally gel with his arrival and whilst it took him a month to bag a goal from open play, his vision and creativity opened the door for other United players to thrive. Anthony Martial grabbed three in three following Fernandes’ arrival and across the front four, United finally looked like a real threat.
Goals had not always been hard to come by for United, but they were scarce when it mattered. An infographic by Bwin shows Man Utd’s games averaged 2.77 goals per game going into June, some way behind the top clubs. However, Fernandes’ haul of six goals and three assists from just 11 domestic games has seen Ole’s side take a major leap forward. Since football resumed in mid-June, United have bagged 14 goals in just five matches, with Fernandes hitting four, Martial five and Mason Greenwood three. Five of their last six encounters have seen three goals or more, strengthening the improvement they have shown since Fernandes arrived.
When you consider Ole also has the burly Odion Ighalo at his disposal, as well as England forward Marcus Rashford, it is little surprise the goals have begun to flow. However, like a hinge on a door, everything swings on Fernandes pulling the strings in midfield.
Fans will already know he is crucial to the club’s turnaround and their quest for Champions League football next season, but the stats back up their belief. Since signing for United, he has assisted 2.14 shots per game for teammates and has registered 40 shots at goal himself. Remember, those have come from just 11 domestic league and cup games.
In the Europa League, which is set to return in August, his record is equally as impressive. Prior to him arriving, there had been worries about the likes of Club Brugge and a 1-1 draw in Belgium did little to ease that in his first European appearance for United. The following two games saw 10 goals without reply from Ole’s side, typically with a goal and an assist from the Portuguese, who also created seven shots for his teammates.
There have been many inspired signings in the Premier League over the last 10 years and longevity is one of the key indicators of how successful a signing is, but early suggestions are that Fernandes is an exciting capture for United. Without him, they were a top six side looking to progress, but his guile and craft has seemingly given them the edge they need to become top three, if not genuine title challengers over the coming seasons.