Bruno Fernandes will continue to play in midfield for Manchester United after two impressive performances in a 4-3-3 system.
Although historically a number eight – he made his name for Sporting Lisbon in that position and also regularly plays there for Portugal – United’s previous manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer doggedly played the Portuguese star in the number 10 position without exception.
And whilst Fernandes’ goals and assists record for United appeared to vindicate that decision, current manager Ralf Rangnick is now convinced that he can achieve as much, if not more, from deeper.
‘I think most of the top teams in Europe and also in England play in a 4-3-3,’ Rangnick said after United’s 3-1 victory over Brentford on Wednesday.
‘I think for him, it’s better than being pinned to a no.10 position because he can then make himself available in different areas of the pitch, not only in the centre.
‘For me, he’s not a wing player, but I think in this position, he can find the spaces himself, he can sniff the moments in which areas we have to play the ball for him, and this position as an eight is almost perfect for him.’
The change has been a long time coming. Shortly after Fernandes joined United, former Sporting boss Carlos Carvalhal told Sky Sports (via Goal.com):
‘He is not a number 10, he is a midfielder but he has developed that ability to break the line of the defence to score goals.
‘He shoots, he assists, the passes and the free-kicks. But he is not a 10, he is an eight. He is a box-to-box player who understands very well the game. He doesn’t just play. He understands everything that happens around him.’
Four goal involvements in two games suggest that Carvalhal was right all along. Taking up those deeper positions also seems to have brought balance to the United team, bridging the gap between midfield and attack that was a problem throughout the course of Solskjaer’s tenure.
Without a world-class specialist holding midfielder, Scott McTominay and Fred have usually been employed in a two-man midfield, but neither have the passing vision or ability to make frequent timed runs into the box that lead to goalscoring opportunities. By pushing Bruno back alongside them, he can get on the ball early and provide that missing link.
Fernandes himself has always said he does not have a preferred position, but the number eight tattooed on his arm suggests otherwise. He now finally has a chance to fulfill that role at Manchester United.
Ralf Rangnick may just have unleashed a monster.