All eyes were on Bruno Fernandes at Old Trafford. “Bruno, Bruno, Bruno,” came the chant from the United fans in the stands before the match began.
The 25-year-old Bruno had only taken part in one training session with his new teammates. He went straight into the starting line-up against Wolves. This is a testament to how much the Red Devils needs him.
Fernandes lined up at No 10 in front of Fred and Pereira and behind a front line of Dan James, Juan Mata and Anthony Martial.
It was from the position that he racked up such extraordinary numbers of goals and assists at Sporting. But while he started at Old Trafford, it was only once he dropped deeper that he began to exert himself on the game.
It perhaps not a surprise that he ended in that area of the pitch given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had linked him to Paul Scholes in the build-up to the game. In addition to his experience and discipline, there were certainly moments when his passing ability stood out.
From his deeper-lying role, one of Fernandes’ primary responsibilities was to provide service for Mata who had moved from the right flank to the center of the pitch. He excelled at it, intelligently seeking out gaps in the Wolves midfield to pick out the Spaniard in space between the lines and send his side forward on the attack.
Fernandes-deepest lying midfielder
On some occasions, Fernandes was their deepest-lying midfielder. It enabled him to orchestrate attacks and rack up more passes in the opposition half than any other player. His success rate was relatively low at under 80 percent. But that was only because of his presence for taking risks rather than playing it safe.
United has however lacked that kind of forward-thinking ambition on the ball in the absence of Paul Pogba. His distribution was not all that Fernando offered. Solskjaer had asked him to be himself. This could be seen in his willingness to test the goalkeeper at every opportunity.
Solskjaer will be encouraged by how Fernandes embraced the physical side of the game in his debut. The Norwegian will be pleased by the ease with which he adapted to his new environment.
The problem of course is, Manchester United’s problems further forward were ad glaringly apparent as ever. Martial toiled again in the central striking role. He failed to register a shot while James endured a difficult evening too. Their struggles were far from ideal from Fernandes.
With that in mind, it remains to be seen whether Odion Ighalo will provide a solution.