As the substitute board went up in the 89th minute of Sunday evening’s game against Liverpool at Anfield, Bruno Fernandes cut a frustrated figure.
“His form is very good, he was just voted Player of the Month,” the Manchester United boss told reporters on Tuesday. “He’s not tired, no, no chance. He is one of the players that runs and covers the ground in every single game, he’s very good at recovering and recharging his batteries.”
Bruno clearly just wants to play every minute of every game. He has helped push this team back to the top of the Premier League and now he wants to do all he can to keep them there.
His petulant reaction to being substituted on Merseyside tells you everything you need to know about Bruno as a character. He is fiercely competitive and has the utmost faith in his ability to win games. He may only have missed out on four minutes of action but Bruno will have felt that he could easily have made a difference in that time.
Therefore, it should come as no surprise that the 26-year-old is not going to put up his hand and say he needs a rest this week, even with United facing two fixtures in two competitions. So, this is where Solskjaer’s man-management will come into play.
For all the criticisms that have been angled at the Norwegian over his two years in charge, there can be few who find fault with the way he deals with his team.
He admitted that telling players they will not be involved is the hardest part of his job because “they all deserve to play”. But there is one player who is arguably more deserving of game time right now than everyone else: Donny van de Beek.
The Dutchman has hit the headlines almost as many times as Fernandes since he arrived from Ajax in the summer but, not for the same reasons.
While Fernandes has been setting his own agenda by breaking records and pushing for his place in the club’s history books, Van de Beek has been left warming the bench. He has played 852 minutes across 21 appearances, only nine of which have been starts.
“What was Donny signed for?” former Ajax coach Danny Blind asked in an interview with Ziggo Sport after watching his compatriot spend the entirety of United’s draw with Chelsea on the bench back in October. “I listened to Solskjaer’s press conference and he had nothing but praise for Donny yet he did not even given him a brief cameo.
“He bought him to beef up the squad. Why not use that squad depth?”
Suggestions that Van de Beek wants out are premature and Solskjaer has made it clear to the Dutchman that he is a valued member of his squad. He is also highly rated by the club’s coaching staff. The problem for the 23-year-old has been the form of those around him.
Solskjaer switches between defensive midfield partnerships of Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba, and Scott McTominay and Fred, which means there is usually just one midfield place left in the manager’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. And that slot belongs to Fernandes – there can be no disputing that.
Add to that the good form of Pogba and one can see why it has become so difficult for Van de Beek to break into the starting XI.
When the Dutchman has been given his chance, there have been glimpses of what he is capable of but only once in the league has he started in that attacking midfield role which seems to suit his strengths most.
There have been cameos off the bench in that role but it’s worth noting that his last start saw him deployed on the left wing.
It’s been tough, then, for a player to arrive at a new club and not be given much chance to impress in his best position.
However, after Fernandes’ lethargic performance against Liverpool, maybe Van de Beek’s time has come. Maybe he will be utilised as a No.10 against Fulham on Wednesday night.
There are those who would argue that the Craven Cottage clash is a bigger fixture for United than the FA Cup game against Liverpool at the weekend and that Fernandes should be rested for the visit of the Reds.
However, if Van de Beek can’t be trusted to fill the Fernandes void against a team who sit in the relegation zone and last won in the league in November, then there is something very wrong there.
This isn’t a case of dropping Fernandes, far from it. He remains the most important cog in Solskjaer’s system but he could potentially benefit enormously from one evening off.
He’s contributed to over half of United’s goals since he arrived last January, with 27 goals and 17 assists in 49 appearances, and his formidable form will no doubt make a difference in whether United maintain their title charge.
His impact has been so significant that many suspect that United simply can’t make do with him.
Source : goal.com