Manchester United have won three matches in a row, though all of them have been by a one-goal margin; performances that required clinical finishing and determined defending to see out the results.
Another common theme across the three matches has been the impact of Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese have donned the captain’s armband since Harry Maguire was dropped for the visit of Liverpool, and it appears to have inspired him into fine form.
Bruno Fernandes was the architect of that win over Jurgen Klopp’s side, grabbing the match by the scruff of the neck with his inspired attacking display, a real throwback performance to his first few months at the club.
He followed that up with a superb strike to secure three points against Southampton last weekend and shone again at Leicester in the week, once again proving to be the talisman for his side.
Fernandes Is Still The Most Influential Player In The Squad So Far
Just about every Manchester United attack involved the 27-year-old’s creative spark, from Jadon Sancho’s calmly finished goal to Cristiano Ronaldo’s overhead kick that went agonizingly wide.
Bruno Fernandes is unfairly judged on his ridiculous, and frankly unsustainable, goal involvements during his first year at the club, and too often his performance is graded as a success based on whether or not he scored or got an assist.
What was so refreshing about his display against Leicester was that he didn’t have a direct goal involvement, but without him, Manchester United still wouldn’t have won, such was his importance in just about everything the team did well when in possession of the ball.
The bottom line is that Fernandes is still the most influential player on this United side, and so often the team’s overall performance is dictated by his own individual output.
Eriksen Is Certainly A Worthy Stop-Gap
However, looking at the wider picture, the Portuguese is himself part of a wider machine and it is no coincidence that his levels have risen thanks to the selfless work of Christian Eriksen to support him.
The Danish midfielder has established himself as one of the most important players under Ten Hag already, and just by watching United, it is obvious to see they are a far better side when he is on the pitch.
His calmness and creativity in possession of the ball are slowly transforming United from a side that relies on moments to win matches to one that could soon be able to totally dominate an encounter, capable of smothering opponents into submission.
Eriksen has already played 443 minutes out of a possible 450 this season and has averaged more distance covered per 90 minutes than any other United player this season, typically covering 10.69km per match. It is this selfless work that allows Fernandes to focus on what he does best, so often acting as the main attacking focal point.
The only issue is that he is getting noticeably tired in matches now and he will need to be carefully managed as the fixture schedule adds another game in most weeks.
Therefore, a contingency plan will need to be constructed to ensure his output can be matched when he is not available, though that is far easier said than done.
Scott McTominay and Fred both have the athletic capabilities of covering the same ground and doing the dirty work in midfield, but neither of them can match Eriksen when it comes to creativity and composure on the ball.
Donny van de Beek is another contender, though Ten Hag views him more as a Fernandes alternative, and the Dutchman has struggled for meaningful minutes since his former Ajax boss arrived at the club.
It is clear to see why Ten Hag was so keen on adding Frenkie de Jong to his side to do just that, but having failed to sign him, Eriksen is certainly a worthy stop-gap until another progressive midfielder can be found.
Fernandes might still be the headline United player right now, but he is not the same without his supporting act.