Erik ten Hag has spoken warmly about the recent excellent form of Bruno Fernandes and reckons he has become a hugely-important component of his Manchester United side again.
The Portuguese midfielder has proved an excellent signing for the Red Devils since arriving two years ago from Sporting Lisbon. Costing an initial £47m, his price could ultimately end up setting United back £67.6m.
However, the money invested on Fernandes has proved money well spent. Indeed, in his 153 games for the club, he has scored 53 goals, weighing in with a further 41 assists.
That said, his form appeared to drop off last season and, as United struggled, so too did Fernandes’ influence. To that end, the Portuguese star found himself coming in for way criticism for the first time since moving to Old Trafford.
Fernandes, though, has recently looked back to his best and – perhaps freed from the shackles of Cristiano Ronaldo – is playing his best football once again.
And his liberation if you like has seen Fernandes find the net in recent matches against Manchester City and Crystal Palace.
United have a great chance to nudge themselves into the title race on Sunday with a huge clash at Arsenal.
And speaking ahead of the game at Emirates Stadium, Ten Hag has warmly praised the midfielder.
“A few weeks ago he [Bruno Fernandes] was criticised for his performance,” he told Sky Sports.
“I told him to stay calm, that the goals will come and to keep doing what he knows how to do, because it’s important for the team and now he’s on two goals in two games.”
Ten Hag names his five Manchester United leaders
Ten Hag continued: “I am convinced that if we continue this collective process he will score more. But the basis is always the skills he has.
“And there are not many players who are as good in transition as Bruno [Fernandes].”
United slumped home in sixth place last season, prompting a change of direction at the club and the appointment of Ten Hag.
His impact has been quickly felt, with the club very much heading in the right direction. Wins over Liverpool, Man City, Arsenal and Tottenham have underlined that quality. And while currently sat fourth, they can move five points behind leaders Arsenal with a win on Sunday.
One criticism aimed at the club last season amid their slump was a lack of leadership on the park.
However, Ten Hag has nurtured a strong leadership group at Old Trafford and the camp seems far happier now.
And the Dutchman has denied claims his team lack leaders on the pitch. To that end, he has named the five men he feels are leaders for United on the pitch.
He continued: “I have a lot of leaders with [David] De Gea, [Raphael] Varane, Bruno Fernandes, [Christian] Eriksen.
“Let’s not forget [Luke] Shaw. I have no leadership problems with this team for tomorrow [Sunday].
“We beat them the first time [earlier this season] and we have confidence.”
Ten Hag will, however, be without the summer signing who has arguably had the biggest impact in Casemiro.
He picked up a fifth caution of the season on Wednesday as United were held 1-1 at Crystal Palace.
However, United beat the Gunners earlier in the season without the influential Brazilian. And the boss is adamant his side can win again as he plots to derail Arsenal’s title hopes in what could be a decisive contest.
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