Bruno Fernandes made his 150th start for Manchester United against Leicester City on Sunday.
The Portuguese midfielder made his debut back in February 2020 and in this three-year period, he has started four more matches than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues, including goalkeepers, and 11 more than any other outfielder.
The 28-year-old has only missed one matchday squad since he arrived in Old Trafford, which was because of illness.
He has made 162 appearances in total for United across all competitions.
After falling short of his expectations last season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick, Fernandes has regained his status as an immovable and intrinsically important member of the starting eleven this season.
Erik ten Hag has opted to deploy him on the right wing since the World Cup. Although this was slightly forced through the injury to Antony and Jadon Sancho’s sabbatical, the decision has nonetheless proved to be inspired.
Fernandes himself insisted that this decision was made in light of him showing responsibility on the training ground:
“It is important [for the coaching staff] to know that I can play different positions and do different things and that the manager trusts me to play on the right wing, as a number eight, on the left or wherever he needs me to play,” he said.
Moreover, since Sancho has been reintroduced into the team, the Englishman has been largely situated in the middle of the frontline in Fernandes’ favoured number ten role.
We have also seen target man Wout Weghorst used as a number ten and number nine.
It can be presumed that Ten Hag’s eagerness to turn United into a Total Football side is contributing to this variation in positions.
The Dutch manager is, in effect, trying to create a dynamic, unpredictable, multifaceted system and players within said system.
Fernandes’ passing ability, however, is showing him to be suited to the right.
He made nine key passes against Leicester, the most of any player in a single match in the Premier League this season.
His willingness to defend is also commendable and lessens the blow incurred by losing the tenacious and hard-working Antony.
Fernandes won five ground duels and made four clearances to contribute to United’s efforts in nullifying Barcelona last Thursday.
When playing as a number ten, his regular position, Fernandes noticeably drifts towards the left side of the pitch on a consistent basis.
But in becoming the de facto team captain with club captain Harry Maguire becoming fifth-choice centre-back, Fernandes has embraced the requirement to lead by example over recent weeks – and the discipline and flexibility shown by not only featuring in an unusual position, but also by excelling in such helps the 28-year-old achieve this leadership status.
Fernandes made it his priority from the day he joined to help make United a successful club again. Ahead of the League Cup semi-final against Nottingham Forest last month, he said:
“With this club, I have never [achieved] my main goal which is to be here at Manchester United and winning trophies with the club.
“That is the first one we can win and hopefully we can win the semi-final, go through to the final and win the first trophy.”
And there lies the answer to the opening question: it may be the perfect time for Fernandes to start to lift trophies with Manchester United wearing the captain’s armband whilst thriving as a multifunctional creative jewel in Ten Hag’s desired crown.