Sporting CP’s Bruno Fernandes’ performances so far this season, have seen the 24-year-old Portuguese international linked with a whole host of elite European clubs, the latest club to be linked with Fernandes is Manchester United, who have apparently made ‘contact’ with the Portuguese club in relation to their captain.
Fernandes spent his time as a youth player at local side Boavista, before moving to Italy in search of first team football. He began in Serie B with Novara, playing a handful of games before being snapped up by Udinese where he played 95 games. He moved onto Sampdoria where he managed 35 appearances, during this time clubs from back home began calling, Fernandes eventually joined Lisbon giants Sporting CP in 2017.
However, it is this season that Fernandes has started to fulfil his immense potential. Bruno put any confusion surrounding his future at the club behind him when he resigned for Sporting in the summer, with the new deal tying him down until 2023.Since then, Fernandes’ form has been nothing short of wonderful. At the time of writing, Fernandes in Liga NOS has 11 goals and seven assists in 21 appearances. In the Europa League he has three goals and two assists in 8 appearances.
His form in in Portugal’s domestic cup competitions has been just as consistently brilliant, in both the Taça de Portugal and the Allianz cup combined, he has 10 appearances, scoring eight goals and managing two assists.
Since the mass exodus at the Alvalade in the summer, Sporting have found themselves a club in transition. However, despite numerous changes at the club there has remained one constant, the form of Bruno Fernandes. He has been the sole shining light for the Lisbon club so far this season and has managed to keep this underperforming side in the top four. These numbers would represent a great return for a striker, so it is even more incredible the fact that he is producing these types of numbers from central midfield.
What type of player is he and what are his strengths?
Bruno’s natural positions are in central midfield and attacking midfield. At Sporting so far this season, he has spent his time divided predominately between these two positions, featuring nine times as an attacking midfielder and 11 times as a central midfielder.
Bruno naturally loves to occupy the space between central midfield and the striker, therefore he excels in an attacking midfield role. He is armed with a great first touch and a fairly low centre of gravity which enables him to manoeuvre the space expertly. At 5’8″ he is not the tallest, however fellow countryman Bernardo Silva, also 5’8″, has proved you do not need a tall stature to succeed in the Premier League.
He is also more than capable of playing as a central midfielder. His defensive contribution is steady but not spectacular, his tackling is not great, although the Sporting faithful would agree that his defensive contribution is not the reason why he is in the side. When he plays central midfield, he usually excels when partnered with someone in the middle who is more adept at the defensive side of the game, if the side decide to play with an added central defensive midfielder, Bruno is allowed to exercise his skillset to a greater degree. He is an accomplished passer of the ball and is not afraid to attempt difficult passes in order to cut open a defence or switch the play.
His passing accuracy in Liga NOS is 75.9%, which may not seem great at first glance but when you factor in that he attempts an average of 4.1 long balls and 1.7 crosses per game and manages to successfully completes on average 2.9 key passes per game, it is clear to see that his passing accuracy statistic is only hindered due to the fact he plays risky, incisive passes, as opposed to passing it sideways or backwards for passing statistics sake.
Where would he fit in at Manchester United?
In recent games, interim United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær has employed a 4-3-1-2 formation, as seen in both the draw with Liverpool and the victory over Chelsea.
As you can see from the above image, United have played recently with an attacking midfielder in Juan Mata and also with 3 central midfielders. Nemanja Matić takes up the position of being the most defensive of the 3, with Ander Herrera playing slightly ahead yet still providing protection for Paul Pogba to maraud forward from deep.
Bruno could fit into this United side in either as an attacking midfielder, in the role Juan Mata took up against Chelsea and Liverpool, or as an extra option in central midfield, taking the place of the more defensive minded Ander Herrera in games United expect to dominate. In comparison with Herrera, Fernandes represents a more attacking option than the spaniard, which is reflected in their head to head statistics. Herrera has a better pass accuracy with 88.2% but has less completed key passes, long balls and through balls than Fernandes. Herrera is more suited to safely recycling possession as opposed to carving open a defence. Defensively, the Spaniard is superior to Fernandes in every way possible with greater tackling, blocks and interception statistics, again highlighting the difference in style of both of these players.
When compared with Mata in the attacking midfielder position, Fernandes triumphs. This is hardly a shock seeing as his goal and assist contribution is one of the best in Europe for a midfielder this season. Mata has only started 3 games this season as a central-attacking midfielder, clocking up 0 goals and 0 assists. Although 3 games is too small of a sample size to generate a solid comparison. Mata, has also been utilised this season as an attacking midfielder on the right and also as a right winger. This deployment of Mata in various positions showcases possibly a greater versatility than Fernandes, who tends to stick to his two favoured positions of central midfield or attacking midfield.
If Manchester United decide to follow through with their initial approach of Bruno Fernandes and manage to sign him, they will have recruited a highly talented and fairly versatile midfielder, who is still young at 24, yet not far off his prime. Considering Ander Herrera is currently 29 whilst Juan Mata is 2 months shy of his 31st birthday, this deal would represent smart business for the Manchester club.
Statistics courtesy of WhoScored.Com and TransferMarkt.com