EPL

Solskjaer deserves credit for 'big improvements' at Manchester United, says Fernandes

By Sports Desk November 05, 2021

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves credit for making "big improvements" at Manchester United as he approaches his three-year anniversary in charge, says Bruno Fernandes.

United manager Solskjaer remains under intense pressure ahead of Saturday's Premier League derby with Manchester City following an underwhelming start to his third full season in charge.

The Red Devils have won just half of their opening 10 Premier League matches, a run that includes a record 5-0 home loss to fierce rivals Liverpool in their most recent match at Old Trafford.

A 2-2 draw with Atalanta in the Champions League in midweek has scarcely lifted the pressure off Solskjaer, who has yet to win any silverware since his appointment in December 2018 on an initial caretaker basis.

But Fernandes – brought to United in January 2020 – insists the players are just as much to blame as their manager for results.

"He brought me to the club, he gave me the chance to play in this amazing club, he made my dream come true," Fernandes told Sky Sports. "He is a great person and everyone knows the human part of him.

"It's normal people get upset because the results don't come, but it's too easy to blame only the coach. We go on the pitch, we should do better.

"We could say the system is not good enough, but we played 4-2-3-1 for three years. We got to some finals, which we didn't win, I understand that, but we got to second place last season and no one was expecting us to have as good a season as we did.

"It was not as good as we want, but it was a good season overall after what everyone was thinking.

"If we didn't drop those points in January, February, we could have been much closer to City. There has been big improvements in the team, big improvement in the club since he arrived, and I think he deserves credit.

"I think he's capable to do more and us as a team are capable to do more. That doesn't depend only on the coach. We have to try to help him because he is trying to help us."

United have 17 points from their opening 10 league games and are eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea. That compares to 19 points at the same stage last season when going on to finish third and 13 after 10 games in 2019-20 when finishing sixth.

"It's not what we want, of course, and we dropped points against Everton, Aston Villa, and Liverpool at home," Fernandes said.

"Last season it was a problem at home, we started the season really well at home to Leeds and Newcastle and in the Champions League too. But we're still dropping points at home and we know that. It's not only the coach's fault."

 

Fernandes was directly involved in 46 goals in all competitions last season – 13 more than next-best Marcus Rashford – and again leads the way among United players this term with his four goals and seven assists.

The most recent of the Portugal international's four goals this term arrived against Newcastle United on September 11, though, and there is a perception that his importance to United is dwindling now that Cristiano Ronaldo is back at the club.

However, Fernandes is creating more chances per 90 minutes this season compared to last season (3.94 to 2.69) and more big chances (0.74 to 0.65), all while playing in a more reserved midfield role.

"The way we played in the last two games, I've played a little deeper,, but it's because we changed system and you have to adapt," Fernandes said. "Everyone was adapting themselves. We have to do what is better for the team.

"I can still do my game wherever I play. I know people are upset because the numbers are going a little bit low – goals are going low, but assists are coming up.

"The importance for people of scoring goals is always better than doing assists or a great game. Last season everyone was like, 'he's scored a lot of goals but he also scores a lot of penalties and he doesn't perform'.

"Now I perform and give a lot of assists and people say 'he's not scoring goals'. There will always be a problem. I'm never happy with myself. I want always to improve and do better."

He added: "The teams know me better and I don't get the space I got in the beginning because I was someone coming from Portugal and most players didn't know who Bruno is.

"Now the space is a little bit short for me, the time is a little bit short, and I have to improve on that to be quick on shooting and passing and everything to make my game work."

Related items

  • Rooney 'flattered' by Everton interest as Ferguson praises his work at Derby Rooney 'flattered' by Everton interest as Ferguson praises his work at Derby

    Duncan Ferguson hailed the work Wayne Rooney has done at Derby County as the former England captain acknowledged he is "flattered" by reports of Everton's interest.

    Rooney, England's record goalscorer who had two spells at boyhood club Everton either side his trophy-laden stint at Manchester United, moved into management in 2020 at Derby, where he played out his final year as a player.

    In his first half season at the club, Rooney kept Derby up on the final day. However, the Championship club's financial woes came to a head in September when they filed for administration, which was subsequently followed by a 12-point deduction and then a further nine-point penalty.

    Yet against the odds, Rooney has Derby off the foot of the table and eight points from safety. 

    Everton, meanwhile, sacked Rafael Benitez on Sunday after a defeat to lowly Norwich City capped a dismal run of just one win in 13 Premier League games. They sit 16th, six points above the relegation zone.

     

    Ferguson, as he did in 2019 before Carlo Ancelotti arrived, has taken interim charge and will oversee Saturday's clash with Steven Gerrard's Aston Villa, but Rooney – along with Frank Lampard and Fabio Cannavaro – is a reported candidate, with Belgium having rebuffed an approach for Roberto Martinez.

    Asked about the rumours during Friday's media conference ahead of Derby's contest with rivals Nottingham Forest, Rooney said: "I'm the same as everyone else. I see the speculation on social media and in the papers.

    "Of course, Everton is a club I grew up supporting and I'm flattered to be brought up in those conversations. But I know Everton will know for them to have any communication with me, they have to go through the administrators.

    "I think it's all hearsay as there has been no approach. My focus is on Derby."

    Rooney was brought up in Ferguson's own media conference, and the Scot said: "I'm not going to drag on too many names who would be a good fit, but certainly Wayne's done very well at Derby, he's an Evertonian.

    "He could be one candidate of many and he's proved himself as a very good manager."

     

    Ferguson – who revealed Real Madrid manager Ancelotti had contacted him this week to offer advice – was pressed on whether he would like the opportunity to manage Everton.

    "Maybe, down the line, one day – I always dream about becoming Everton manager – but I've not quite got that experience," he answered.

    "My job at the moment is to take the upcoming games, steady the ship and the club will go through a process of identifying the new manager. 

    "You never know in football, but my job at the moment is to focus on the next game and that's it. 

    "We need a winning manager. A manager who can come and win games of football, build something and get us back up the league."

    Everton have taken just five points in their last 12 Premier League matches (W1 D2 L9), the fewest in a 12-game span since earning four points between August and October 1994, and asked about Benitez's departure, Ferguson replied: "I think the results weren't there, we weren't too surprised, I don't think Rafa would be too surprised."

    Saturday's game with Villa has plenty of side stories. Liverpool great Gerrard was on the winning side against Everton more often than he was against any other opponent in the Premier League (16), while Lucas Digne is returning to Goodison Park just over a week after he left due to a falling out with Benitez.

  • The Numbers Game: Can Moyes pull off a Man Utd double for first time since Mourinho's Chelsea? The Numbers Game: Can Moyes pull off a Man Utd double for first time since Mourinho's Chelsea?

    Not many would have predicted before the season that Manchester United versus West Ham represented a key game in the battle for the top four, but that's where we are.

    The Red Devils' win over Brentford moved them to within two points of the Hammers in fourth, with a game in hand, meaning Saturday's clash at Old Trafford offers a good chance to make some headway in the race to finish behind Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

    It also gives David Moyes the chance to end a pretty rotten record at the home of his old club – and that's not including the nine months he was in charge there – as well as the chance for West Ham to avenge their defeat in the reverse fixture.

    Let's not forget they have already won away against United in 2021-22 – and not many teams manage to do that twice in a season. The last one, in fact, was managed by Jose Mourinho.


    BEDEVILLED

    United have won 20 of their 25 home games against West Ham in the Premier League, their last defeat coming in May 2007, when soon-to-be Red Devil Carlos Tevez secured a 1-0 win for the visitors.

    Yet their record when London clubs come calling hasn't been so strong of late: they have lost three of the previous eight home games against teams from the capital, as many such defeats as they suffered in 38 matches at Old Trafford between 2013-14 and 2019-20.

    West Ham, of course, boast the rare feat of being above United in the table: while they sit fourth, United are seventh. Only four times previously in the Premier League era have the Hammers faced them while being placed higher in the standings; interestingly, they failed to win any of them, losing 2-1 in August 1995 and September 2014, drawing 0-0 in August 1998 and losing 3-1 in December 2020.

    'PLAY LIKE FERGIE'S BOYS...'

    Moyes has done a quite brilliant job at West Ham since being parachuted in to rescue them in December 2019. Since the start of 2020-21, he has managed 30 wins from 60 league matches, accruing 102 points in that time. The only sides with more victories and more points are United, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City.

    Old Trafford, though, is not a happy hunting ground for the former United boss. He has drawn four and lost 10 of his away games at the stadium as a Premier League manager; only Harry Redknapp (15 games) has visited more often in the competition without a single win.

    That being said, Moyes did lead West Ham to victory on this ground in the EFL Cup back in September, and they could become just the fourth team to beat United away twice in the same season after Aston Villa (1919-20), Tottenham (1989-90) and Chelsea (2004-05).

    BOWEN'S ROAD RAGE, HAMMER TIME FOR RONALDO

    Cristiano Ronaldo scored in United's dramatic 2-1 win in the reverse fixture in September, in which he was also denied a couple of pretty strong penalty shouts before Mark Noble's injury-time spot-kick was saved by David de Gea.

    The Portugal great has always quite enjoyed facing the Hammers, with six goals and one assist in his five league appearances against them. He was directly involved in seven of the 10 United goals in those matches, in fact, so you wouldn't bet against him keeping up that record – assuming, of course, he isn't having a strop on the bench instead.

    Jarrod Bowen, arguably West Ham's most in-form player, is another who will be hoping to make an impact.

    He has scored six and assisted seven goals in his past 18 league appearances, including goals in his most recent two, but the former Hull City man has only scored three times in 43 top-flight matches on the road, converting a meagre four per cent of his shots (3/69).

    Bowen has played seven times against United from the start, but he's never scored, and only twice has he even lasted the whole game.

    SATURDAY SLUMP

    It's a minor novelty in itself that United are playing a match at 15:00 local time on a Saturday. Such is their global appeal that broadcasters are usually quick to shift them to a more viewer-friendly kick-off time.

    Ralf Rangnick might actually have preferred a different slot. United have lost their most recent two games to start at this time on a Saturday, both of which were this season: 4-2 at Leicester City, and 4-1 at Watford, a result that ended the reign of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Never before have they lost three in a row when playing at this time.

    United's opening league game of 2022 ended in a 1-0 loss to Wolves at Old Trafford. They have not lost their first two home league matches in a year since 1985, when Ron Atkinson's side were beaten by Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City. They did go on to finish fourth, though...

  • 'The team is more important than whoever' – Rangnick reiterates stance after Ronaldo tantrum at Brentford 'The team is more important than whoever' – Rangnick reiterates stance after Ronaldo tantrum at Brentford

    Ralf Rangnick insisted that his priority will always be with the Manchester United team and not certain individuals amid ongoing questions over Cristiano Ronaldo's behaviour at Brentford.

    United sit seventh in the Premier League but are two points behind fourth-placed West Ham with a game in hand after defeating Brentford 3-1 on Wednesday.

    Ronaldo played a part in Mason Greenwood's goal, the second for United, at the Brentford Community Stadium but was removed nine minutes later, seemingly much to the Portugal captain's disgust.

    The 36-year-old appeared annoyed as he wandered towards the dugout, where he sat on the steps as he continued to gesture as if he was asking why he had been substituted.

    Rangnick, who could be seen having a word in Ronaldo's ear minutes later in an attempt to defuse the situation, said post-match that the commotion did not concern him, a stance he once again reiterated on Friday.

    "I think we shouldn't make too much of a fuss out of it," Rangnick responded when asked about Ronaldo at a pre-match news conference ahead of Saturday's clash with West Ham.

    "I can only speak for myself and my coaching staff. I explained that to him during the game, we had a little conversation after we scored the third goal. In fact, I told him the same as what I said in our press conference. 

    "The job of a football manager is to help the team win the game and it was clear from our experience at Villa Park that this time we have to do things better. 

    "We did it better and the only question was, who do we take off? Of course, Cristiano is a prolific goalscorer and he's a player that will always want to play and score goals. 

    "The team is more important than whoever – Cristiano, Edinson [Cavani], Bruno [Fernandes].

    "He was also asking why me 'why didn't you take off one of the younger players?'. The answer came five minutes later when one of the younger players scored the third goal. 

    "Maybe Cristiano could have also scored the third goal, but football is not about maybe, it is about taking a decision in the right moment."

    Asked for further clarification on his decision to send on centre-back Harry Maguire for Ronaldo, Rangnick added: "In a way in football it's a bit like chess, things can change so quickly during the game. 

    "If you watched last night's semi-final [between Arsenal and Liverpool] in the EFL Cup things can change from one minute to another.

    "In some parts of the game, you are dominating the game, pinning the other team back, and all of sudden it can be different. 

    "Therefore it is important to be able to react to what the game needs now, to what the team needs and we had exactly the same decision at Brentford as at Villa, 70 minutes played, 2-0 up against a team who does not give up. 

    "For me, it was logical with the negative experience we had at Villa Park to do it differently this time and it was clear we bring on Harry [Maguire] and then defend this 2-0 result and in the end we even scored a third one on the counter-attack and it was clear we were going to win the game."

    Ronaldo will likely lead the line again at home to David Moyes' Champions League-chasing Hammers, who the striker has scored seven goals in his last five top-flight appearances against.

    West Ham, however, have already won away at Old Trafford this season, winning 1-0 in the EFL Cup. Only three teams have ever won twice away against the Red Devils in the same season – Aston Villa (1919-20), Tottenham Hotspur (1989-90) and Chelsea (2004-05).

    Rangnick appreciates he has to take a game at a time at the United helm as he refused to look to far ahead in terms of rebuilding at the club.

    "My full focus as I have indicated is to win games with this team, in order to win games as a team we need to develop as a team," he continued.

    "We need to improve in some areas, we have done so in the last couple of weeks, but there is still more space for that in vast areas of our game and this is where my focus is. 

    "I'm not dealing with what might happen in four or five months, that is not on top of my list.

    "It's about how we can win the game against West Ham, then the cup against Middlesbrough and then Burnley, playing Southampton and Brighton [and Hove Albion] at home, this is where my focus is."

© 2022 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.