Mission complete! Bruno Fernandes fires Man Utd back into the Champions League

The Portugal international has been the catalyst behind the Red Devils’ resurgence that has led them to securing a top-four finish

Back in October, it seemed as if Manchester United needed a miracle if they were going to secure Champions League football.

They were languishing in 13th place in the Premier League, could not string together a run of victories and had endured their worst beginning to a season for 30 years. Even at the start of 2020, they were 10 points off third and six behind Chelsea in fourth.

Rumours were circulating suggesting that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be sacked, with claims the Norwegian was out of his depth and would be replaced by Mauricio Pochettino.

In reality, his position was never truly under threat, with the board and the owners instead backing their man as he oversees a rebuild at Old Trafford.

An illustration of that came with the initial £47 million ($60m) they agreed to spend to bring Bruno Fernandes to the club from Sporting C.P. in January.

Fernandes has proved to be the miracle they were searching for. When the 5’10” magician from Portugal arrived in Manchester, United sat 14 points behind Sunday’s opponents Leicester. They finished the season four points and two places above the Foxes, with Champions League football secured for next term.

It was fitting that, despite one of his poorer performances in a United shirt, Fernandes was the player to score the crucial goal at the King Power Stadium to cement a top-four finish for Solskjaer’s side.

His 71st-minute spot-kick – a record 14th in the league for United this season, that came after Anthony Martial was brought down in the box by Jonny Evans and Wes Morgan – was his eighth Premier League goal of the campaign.

Since his debut in February, no player has been involved in more goals in the Premier League. He has seven assists to go with his goals, while his contribution extends far further than the successful strikes he has contributed towards.

United’s players talk about how he has lifted them in the dressing room; since his arrival they have been unbeaten in the league.

At Leicester, Solskjaer arrived wearing his club suit. It was not a Wembley final, but the Norwegian knew there was more resting on the game than a trophy.

The crunch clash was worth £100m off the pitch, with both sides still able to finish in those lucrative Champions League spots.

More than that for United, finishing in the top four would help prove that they are heading in the right direction and that Solskjaer’s rebuild can potentially push them back to the top of the game both in England and Europe.

United played the first half like a side who knew how much was riding on the result. They struggled to get a footing in the game, with Brendan Rodgers’ side dominating and causing them problems on the counterattack.

Early opportunities fell to Wilfried Ndidi and Marc Albrighton while United’s formidable front line of Martial, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood did nothing to test Kasper Schmeichel.

Solskjaer’s nerves were audible as he screamed at Fernandes for complaining to the linesman over a challenge instead of getting back in position to halt a Leicester attack, but he got the improvement he wanted after the break.

Martial’s movement had started to cause the home side problems, and it was his darting run which saw United awarded the penalty to put them ahead.

Knowing that Wolves were doing them no favours against Chelsea, Leicester were forced to go on the attack and bid to win the game themselves. The injured James Maddison screamed in exasperation from the stands as his side went close, but they could not muster anything in response.

Instead United were able to turn to an unlikely hero off the bench to wrap things up as Jesse Lingard, on for Greenwood, capitalised on a Schmeichel error for his first league goal since December 2018.

The celebrations on the bench said it all. United had pulled off the miracle. Fernandes’ first mission has been a resounding success. Now he can look forward to taking on Europe’s best.

Be the first to comment

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.