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Bruno Fernandes: As good a playmaker as Eric Cantona?

by Shane Healy

The 2020/21 season was Bruno Fernandes’ first full season playing for Manchester United. He signed for United from Sporting CP in January 2020 and immediately started to produce the end-product of goals and assists.

United played their last league game of the campaign against Wolverhampton Wanderers yesterday with Fernandes on 28 goals and 18 assists in all competitions.

On occasion throughout the season, fans and pundits have compared the fiery Portuguese with United legend, Eric Cantona. And the stats are close.

Like Fernandes, Cantona was signed half-way through a season. Crucially, however, he helped Sir Alex Ferguson’s United to their first league title in 26 years in 1993.

In Cantona’s first full season playing for the Reds, he hit 20 goals and 11 assists in all competitions, however, he played less games overall than Fernandes.

It is in the stats per 90 minutes where the two players are strikingly similar.

Cantona managed 0.54 goals per game while Fernandes is on 0.51, and both managed exactly 0.33 assists per 90.

United and Fernandes, of course, have one more big game to play this season on Wednesday, against Villareal in the Europa League final.

While ‘expected Goals’ and ‘expected Assists’ were not recorded during Cantona’s time, Fernandes leads the Premier League this season in Expected Assists, or xA.  XA is the measure of how likely a pass is to result in a goal.

Fernandes has been the ultimate playmaker for United this season. He has created 95 chances throughout, often playing a wide range of forward passes, and threatening with plenty of shots around the edge of the box.

Last week, Fernandes was named the Sir Matt Busby Fan’s Player of the Year for the Red Devils and he will also be a strong contender for the standout player of the Premier League. However, the Portuguese’ attacking impact will mean less, unless he can push United to silverware, as Cantona did.

He will have a good chance this Wednesday evening to go some of the way there, but ultimately, the Premier League will be the Holy Grail.

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