Manchester United left-back Luke Shaw teased Bruno Fernandes as he hailed the Red Devils star's "unbelievable" impact at Old Trafford.

Fernandes has taken United and the Premier League by storm since arriving from Portuguese giants Sporting CP in January last year.

The Portugal international has scored 15 goals and tallied 10 assists for second-placed United this season ahead of Wednesday's Premier League trip to Crystal Palace.

Fernandes has 40 goal involvements in his 40 Premier League appearances so far (23 goals and 17 assists). However, three of the last four matches in which the Portuguese has failed to register a goal or assist have been in London (against Chelsea, Arsenal and Fulham).

Shaw poked fun at team-mate Fernandes – who has netted 34 times in 61 matches across all competitions – telling Adidas: "We do talk a bit, but honestly the guy's numbers are unbelievable, what he's doing and how he's doing it.

"I said to him 'Bruno, I'll be honest, you weren't great [against Real Sociedad in the Europa League last-32 first leg] but you scored two goals. I just don't know how you do it!"

Shaw added: "I think people in football understand the game and how important that player is, who doesn't get many assists or goals, but a lot of the outside world is all about stats.

"It's understandable because they watch it and they want to see those things, but you've just got to deal with it."

United face Palace in London midweek, 15 points adrift of runaway leaders and neighbours Manchester City.

Only four clubs in English top-flight history have had a longer unbeaten away run than United's current 20-match streak (W13 D7).

United have not lost any of their last seven league games in London (W4 D3), last having a longer run without defeat in the capital between December 2011-December 2013 (13 games).

The Red Devils have never lost in 11 Premier League away games against Palace – the most one side has played at another without ever losing in the competition (W8 D3).

Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel revealed Paris Saint-Germain tried to sign Bruno Fernandes before he joined Manchester United with devastating impact last year.

Speaking ahead of Chelsea's Premier League clash with rivals United on Sunday, Tuchel explained that during his time as PSG head coach from 2018 to late 2020, the Ligue 1 champions tried to lure Fernandes to Paris.

The Portugal international was captain of Sporting CP at the time, but eventually signed for United in January 2020 and has since scored 34 goals in 60 appearances across all competitions.

"With my first sporting director in Paris, Antero Henrique, a Portuguese sporting director, and he knew [Fernandes] very well," Tuchel told reporters.

"We fought hard to have a connection to him and to bring him to our team. I got made aware of him more in detail, so we watched more and more games about him and followed him and tried to be in touch with him to make it happen.

"Obviously, he decided [to sign for Manchester United] and I was never personally in touch with him, but we tried and he went another way. [It is] bad for us that we have to play against him."

Fernandes looms as a key factor in Sunday's clash against fifth-placed Chelsea, with both sides fighting to make the top four and secure Champions League berths.

The 26-year-old currently sits second for assists in the 2020-21 Premier League campaign with 10, only one behind Manchester City star Kevin De Bruyne and Tottenham's Harry Kane.

Fernandes provided his 10th Premier League assist of the season against Newcastle United last time out, becoming only the fourth different United player to reach double figures for both goals (15) and assists in a single Premier League campaign, after Eric Cantona (three times), Dwight Yorke (1998-99) and Wayne Rooney (five times).

Tuchel has been extremely impressed by Fernandes' impact since joining United, leading the club to a top-four spot last season before helping them move up to second this campaign.

"The impact he has had since he arrived at Manchester United is indescribable and unbelievable," Tuchel said.

"To come from Portugal, from a competitive team, a big club but not from the strongest league and stepping in a year to one of the biggest clubs in the Premier League and the strongest league in Europe and to have this kind of impact, I have nothing but the biggest respect for this guy.

"It is outstanding. He is one of the best midfielders in the world, attacking midfielders, and he has a huge, huge impact and to have this as a single person in football, you must be absolutely top level because this is almost impossible.

"But he has such a big influence on their game, on their attacking game and that it is a big key to defend against him, to be around him and close to him and he is a key player of Man Utd in a way that is outstanding."

United are second in the Premier League, 13 points behind runaway leaders City but six clear of Chelsea.

Paul Scholes was full of praise for Bruno Fernandes after the Portuguese playmaker once again underlined his importance to Manchester United.

A potentially tricky Europa League first leg against Real Sociedad turned into a rout thanks in no small part to Fernandes, who scored twice in Turin to help United run out convincing 4-0 winners over LaLiga opponents.

The result puts Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side on course to reach the last 16 of the competition ahead of the return fixture at Old Trafford, which takes place next Thursday.

As for Fernandes, he has now scored 33 times in all competitions since making his debut for the Red Devils on February 1, 2020. Only four players within the top five European leagues can better that tally: Robert Lewandowski (53), Cristiano Ronaldo (40), Romelu Lukaku (38) and Erling Haaland (36).

Club legend Scholes is certainly a fan of Fernandes, applauding a "terrific signing" for the way he always seems to make an impact every time he plays.

"He's been sensational since the very day he signed really," Scholes said on BT Sport.

"He makes the team play football and, you have to say, every time you watch him play, every single game he plays, he affects it, which someone in that position should be doing. 

"With the quality that he's got, you feel like he's going to score goals, he's going to make goals. 

"He's been a truly, truly terrific signing."

Fernandes has nine goals in all European competitions for United; only Inter striker Lukaku (11) has netted more across both the Europa League and Champions League since last February.

The 26-year-old's brace against Real Sociedad helped lead to the biggest away victory by an English side against a Spanish opponent in the UEFA Cup/Europa League, surpassing Newcastle United's 3-0 win at Real Mallorca back in March 2004.

Marcus Rashford was also on target to take his tally in Europe to seven for the season before Dan James added a late fourth for United, who tallied 13 total shots despite having just 40.6 per cent of possession.

Bruno Fernandes urged Manchester United to keep maturing and increase their chances of winning trophies after inspiring their emphatic Europa League win over Real Sociedad.

The Portugal star scored twice before Marcus Rashford and Daniel James also got on the scoresheet in a 4-0 victory at the Allianz Stadium in Turin.

Fernandes has now been directly involved in 52 goals in all competitions since his United debut last February, 10 more than any other Premier League player in that time.

His latest decisive display ensured the Red Devils ended a nine-game winless run against Spanish opposition and put themselves in a strong position to reach the last 16.

And it is progress in as many competitions as possible that matters most to Fernandes as he bids to win his first silverware since leaving Sporting CP, having suffered three semi-final defeats in 2019-20.

"It's about winning. We want to win games and today I think we did everything well," he told BT Sport.

"The result is on our side, but we have the second leg. We still have a tough game at home. We know 4-0 is a good result, but we have to be aware of what Real Sociedad can do.

"I think we don't have to look at results, we have to look at performances. We know we don't perform well in some games, but still, in some games, we don't get the result we want and we perform well.

"We need to understand we have to grow up, we are getting better and better, and of course the most important thing is the results, to give you a little more confidence.

"My target is scoring the most goals I can and trying to assist my team-mates. I think the position I play is to do that, to assist and score when you can.

"Most important for me, my target is trophies. Winning trophies is more important than scoring goals."

United host Sociedad at Old Trafford next Thursday, after Newcastle United visit in the league this Sunday.

Bruno Fernandes scored twice as Manchester United beat Real Sociedad 4-0 in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

Fernandes took his tally to 33 goals in all competitions for the Red Devils to put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men in charge inside the first hour.

The LaLiga side had posed a threat at the Allianz Stadium in Turin, where the match was being held due to coronavirus travel restrictions, but Marcus Rashford and Daniel James struck before Amad Diallo was granted his debut late on, meaning United go into next week's return leg in a commanding position.

Former United man Adnan Januzaj curled a shot just wide of the right-hand post and Dean Henderson had to save smartly from Alexander Isak, those chances coming either side of a wasted Rashford opportunity in a thrilling opening three minutes.

Scott McTominay, who had scored three goals in United's previous four games, was denied another by the leg of Alex Remiro after driving into the box from Fernandes' pass.

Rashford then missed another glorious opportunity, firing straight at Remiro after Alex Telles' throughball to Fernandes split the Sociedad defence.

However, he turned provider in the 26th minute. This time, Remiro made a mess of things coming off his line to clear Rashford's pass and clattered into his defenders, giving Fernandes a simple finish.

La Real applied some pressure early in the second half but United doubled their lead on the break. Fernandes let Rashford's pass run to Daniel James and then swept a first-time finish past Remiro, with VAR overturning an initial offside call.

Januzaj continued to threaten against his old club, beating Fernandes and playing in a dangerous cross that Nemanja Matic cleared, but Rashford made no mistake with the third of his chances to kill off the game, slotting past Remiro after Fred's pass cut through the defence.

James had a goal disallowed for a marginal offside and fired another effort straight at Remiro, but he made no mistake with his next chance, charging into the box and squeezing a shot through the keeper's legs.

What does it mean? United end Spanish hoodoo to take charge of tie

United had gone nine games without a win against Spanish sides in Europe stretching back to a 1-0 semi-final first-leg victory over Celta Vigo en route to winning this trophy in 2016-17.

This was a welcome result against a strong side that saw United find something of their attacking groove again and take control of the last-32 tie.

They have been inconsistent at home this season, but they will be firm favourites to progress next week at Old Trafford.

Bruno is frankly brilliant

Fernandes has been involved in 53 goals in 58 games for United in all competitions, which is 10 more than any other Premier League player has managed since his debut last February.

Imanol Alguacil's set-up afforded him lots of space to exploit but, unlike some of his team-mates, Fernandes almost always applies a clinical touch.

United can still sharpen up in attack

This proved a comfortable win but, in truth, United should have had many more. Rashford missed two sitters in the first half, James missed an easier chance than the one he converted, and Greenwood dragged a good opening wide.

Should they progress to the latter stages, they will want to avoid a repeat of last year's semi-final exit when Sevilla punished their lack of ruthlessness. This was an encouraging step towards correcting that problem.

What's next?

Before next Thursday's second leg, United are at home to Newcastle United in the Premier League on Sunday, with Sociedad hosting Deportivo Alaves in LaLiga.

Harry Maguire and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer were left confused as to why West Brom's opener in Manchester United's 1-1 draw on Sunday was allowed to stand after an apparent foul.

United dropped points for the fourth time in five Premier League games, as the Red Devils were unable to make the most of their dominance at The Hawthorns.

Bruno Fernandes got United's goal on the stroke of half-time, taking him to 38 goal involvements for the club in as many league games, a record bettered by only Andy Cole (46) in his first 38 Premier League games.

But United failed to build on that as they struggled to break West Brom's packed defence down, meaning Mbaye Diagne's early goal consigned them to another disappointing result.

But there was more than a hint of controversy around Diagne's goal, which stood despite the striker clearly catching Victor Lindelof in the face with his hand.

The situation left Maguire and Solskjaer baffled.

Maguire, who had a goal of a similar nature disallowed against Burnley, told Sky Sports: "We created a lot of chances - enough to win the game.

"It was tough for ourselves with the goal we conceded - for us it was a foul. We played the game in their half. We can do more and improve but it's disappointing. It was a tough job against a team that defends deep."

Speaking to beIN SPORTS, Solskjaer added: "I'm an ex-forward, so it's not as if I'm going to say it's a big foul against Victor, but why did Harry's goal against Burnley – and I know I'm going back a bit here – [get disallowed] … Where's the consistency here? There's absolutely no consistency in any of these decisions.

"If Harry's against Burnley is a foul, that is miles worse. As a striker you say well done, because if that had been taken away from me I would have been disappointed, so it's just the consistency we're looking for."

The draw put United second again but meant they were seven points adrift of leaders Manchester City, who also have a game in hand.

Manchester United dropped points in the Premier League for the fourth time in five matches as they were held to a 1-1 draw at rock-bottom West Brom, further denting their disappearing hopes of challenging Manchester City at the summit.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men extended their unbeaten run away from home to 19 matches, though it will be seen as another missed opportunity as United are left seven points adrift of City, who still have a game in hand.

United, as they have become accustomed to, fell behind thanks to Mbaye Diagne's controversial early opener, but the visitors equalised through Fernandes on the stroke of half-time, making this the first season since 2012-13 that they have netted 50 times after 20 league matches.

They continued to dominate proceedings in the second half but saw a penalty decision wiped out and former United prospect Sam Johnstone stunningly tipped a Harry Maguire header onto the post deep into stoppage time.

 

 

 

Bruno Fernandes has urged Manchester United's emerging stars to seize their moment as they seek to make an impression at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer confirmed ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom that teenage trio Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbr and Amad Diallo would all be involved with the senior side.

Fernandes has been a leading light for United this season, helping to propel the Red Devils into possible Premier League title contention.

The Portuguese playmaker hopes the injection of youth into the United first-team fold will provide a boost, though he urged those making the step up to work hard and stay humble.

"They have to keep their heads clean, because it's easy to come in to the first team and your head goes a little bit, and it's also hard when you have to go back and train and play with the other teams again," he told the club's official website.

"I was in that position some years ago and I know it's hard, but if you work and are humble and you understand that every time you play is a chance, no matter where you are playing, every time is a chance to show you are ready or that you want to make that next step.

"For us as a team, it’s important that when they come [to train with us] that they come to help us and learn from everyone and also give the qualities they have to the team.

"If they come to the first team it's because they have something good and that is something that can help us."

We took a closer look at two of United's most promising prospects, in Mejbri and Shoretire.

 

HANNIBAL MEJBRI, 18 – ATTACKING MIDFIELDER

Many will have had an eye on Mejbri's development ever since he joined the club from Monaco in August 2019 in a deal that could potentially cost €10million (£8.75m).

A France youth international, Mejbri quickly progressed to United's Under-23s last term despite only being 17 and has become a regular.

A technically gifted attack-minded midfielder, Mejbri has impressed not only with his ability on the ball, but his knack of crafting opportunities for team-mates.

In Premier League 2 Division One, his 42 chances created in 13 games is more than any other player, while his six assists is a joint-best for the league.

He has combined his creativity and comfort in possession to good effect as well, as evidenced by the fact seven of his carries (a movement of more than five metres with the ball) have led to chances created, a figured bettered by only five.

Mejbri has also attempted 49 dribbles, the fourth-most in the division, and won a remarkable 94 fouls – almost three times as many as anyone else – two of which secured penalties in the recent 6-3 win over Liverpool's Under-23s.

In fact, Wood recently urged referees to do more to protect him from such rough treatment, concerned Mejbri will suffer a serious injury if it continues.

He can expect similar attention if he does get minutes in the top flight, though Wood is adamant Mejbri does not let it get to him, saying: "I think he's the type that he wants the ball all the time, he's not going to shy away from it and that's what we want, you don't want your top players being worried, he just needs a bit of protection or it could result in him being badly injured."

SHOLA SHORETIRE, 17 – FORWARD

Shoretire joined the United academy in 2014 having previously played for Newcastle United, and for several years now he has looked like one of the next high-potential kids to come off the Old Trafford production line.

He made his debut for the club's Under-18s in 2018, in doing so becoming the youngest player to ever feature in UEFA's Youth League at 14 years and 314 days.

Shoretire – whose name is pronounced 'Shor-ay-ti-reh' – is most-often used as a winger (on either flank) for the Under-23s, but given his excellent dribbling, vision and finishing abilities, he could potentially have a future as a more central striker.

He signed his first professional contract on Monday, just three days after netting a hat-trick against Blackburn Rovers' Under-23s.

That took him to five goals in 13 appearances this term, while he also has four assists from 22 chances created.

Where he comes out particularly well is with regards to goal-ending passing sequences, of which he has been involved in 13 – only Mejbri (14) has a better record here.

Like Mejbri, Shoretire also has a penchant for taking the game to his opponents, as showcased by the fact he has created eight chances at the end of ball carries, the fifth-most in the league.

Given United's packed schedule over the next few weeks, with their European campaign set to resume, it wouldn't be a surprise to see these two make their first-team bows.

Even if they don't this season, it is surely only a matter of time.

Manchester United got back to winning ways in the Premier League by obliterating nine-man Southampton 9-0 at Old Trafford on Tuesday. 

After following a shock home loss to Sheffield United with a goalless draw at Arsenal, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side responded in record-equalling style after young Alex Jankewitz had been sent off within two minutes of kick-off. 

Aaron Wan-Bissaka opened the scoring before Marcus Rashford ended a six-game run without a league goal, with the contest effectively killed before half-time through a Jan Bednarek own goal and a header from Edinson Cavani. 

Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes, Daniel James and a double from Anthony Martial in the second half, with Bednarek also dismissed, helped the Red Devils match their biggest ever Premier League victory and inflicted a second 9-0 loss on Ralph Hasenhuttl in his career as Saints boss. 

Jankewitz's full Premier League debut ended in a hurry, the midfielder given a straight red card for a high challenge on McTominay. 

The home side got the breakthrough 18 minutes in, Wan-Bissaka cushioning a fine Luke Shaw cross into the bottom-left corner after a long Victor Lindelof pass had disrupted the defence. 

Shaw was key to the second seven minutes later too, driving into the box and feeding Mason Greenwood, whose cross was side-footed firmly past Alex McCarthy by Rashford. 

David de Gea made a good save from a James Ward-Prowse free-kick, but United were soon 3-0 up, the previously excellent Bednarek turning Rashford's cross into his own net. 

Cavani miscued from a Wan-Bissaka cross but made no mistake six minutes before the interval, steering a firm header past McCarthy from another precise Shaw delivery. 

VAR intervened to disallow a second-half consolation goal from Che Adams, the Saints striker penalised for a fractional offside following a quick free-kick from Ward-Prowse. 

Martial made it 5-0, taking down Fernandes' pass on the chest and firing high into the net, with McTominay then fizzing in a strike from outside the box two minutes later.

Fernandes converted from the penalty spot after Bednarek was sent off for a trip on Martial, who went on to add an eighth goal, though it was James who capped a stunning result with a clever flick from close range in added time.

One year on from his Red Devils debut, Bruno Fernandes is the face of Manchester United and one of Europe's finest, but back in 2012 it was a lot different.

There were no camera crews when a baby-faced Fernandes packed his bags and left Portugal for Italy almost nine years ago – Novara was the destination for the unheralded midfielder.

Novara, a club based in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy, had been alerted to the 17-year-old. Scouted by former head of youth Mauro Borghetti, they opted to sign Fernandes from Boavista – investing for the future.

"The previous season our club was in Serie A but was being relegated in Serie B, so with the board we took the decision to invest some money on some foreign talents," Borghetti – now sporting director of the Serie C side – told Stats Perform News.

"Bruno Fernandes was in this list and because of his technical skills and his value – we knew his value more or less – we decided to make a survey for this player and pay him a visit.

"On a Saturday morning I took a flight to Portugal to watch an Under-19 Boavista game. He struck me for the characteristics he is showing now, although he didn't shine that much in that game. But I could see his skills and his personality on top of his creativity."

It is not often Portuguese talent leave their homeland for abroad, but Fernandes forged his own path en route to Old Trafford, having also played for Udinese, Sampdoria and Sporting CP.

"Bruno's situation was peculiar," Borghetti said. "He was not playing in one of the top Portuguese clubs that boast great visibility and can make young talents grow in the country. Bruno was playing in the U19 of Boavista, a club relegated in the third division at the time.

"He was waiting for his chance to shine. Novara, an Italian club, albeit in Serie B at the time, was what Bruno was waiting for. So it was not hard to find a deal and Bruno didn't take long to give us the green light."

Initially signed to Novara's youth team, Fernandes made an immediate impact at Stadio Silvio Piola, where he learnt Italian language using post-it notes.

Fernandes scored four goals in 23 appearances as Novara finished fifth in the 2012-13 Serie B season before falling to Empoli in the promotion play-offs.

"Bruno is a very smart guy so he settled in right away at Novara," Borghetti continued. "In one week, 10 days tops, he started communicating with the group in Italian, an example of his intelligence. This helped him a lot as much as the fact of being the only foreigner, the only Portuguese, in a full Italian squad. This helped him get involved faster, he was basically forced to speak Italian. He settled down so quickly and this helped him a lot."

Borghetti added: "As a foreign kid who was supposed to take his time to settle in, he definitely was quick in doing it. We didn't expect such a growth as we didn't know him so well. When we started to know him better, then yes, we thought he could go straight to the first team.

"In fact, he stayed only six months in Novara U19 squad. He then played the second part of the season as a starter of the first squad, scoring and taking the team to the playoff for Serie A."

Having exceeded expectations at Novara, Fernandes quickly made the step up to Serie A – firstly with Udinese before joining Sampdoria three years later in 2016.

But it was not until 2017, when he returned to his homeland, that Fernandes captured the attention of United and Europe's elite.

Fernandes was a class above in Primeira Liga, scoring 64 goals in 137 appearances for Sporting, where he led the Portuguese giants to Taca da Liga (2018 and 2019) and Taca de Portugal (2019) glory.

There were rumours of interest from Real Madrid and Tottenham, but after months of speculation, United finally landed their talisman in deal worth an initial £47million last year.

Fernandes has not looked back – the Portugal international has been involved in 45 goals across all competitions, more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Only captain Harry Maguire (54) has made more competitive appearances for United than the Portuguese (53), but the former Sporting skipper has scored the most goals (28) and assisted his team-mates the most often (17).

Fernandes ended 2020 winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award, becoming the first to claim that many honours in a calendar year. For that award, he has already matched the tallies of United greats Paul Scholes and Ronaldo and is just one behind all-time leading goalscorer Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie.

A transformative signing for the Red Devils, Fernandes has been directly involved in 33 goals in his first 35 appearances (19 goals, 14 assists) – a figure bettered only by Andrew Cole (41) in the history of the Premier League.

"For us he was a very important player," Borghetti said. "He always proved he was a cut above the average footballers. But to be honest with Udinese and Sampdoria he was in Serie A but hadn't impressed us all so much.

"His breakthrough came after his season in Portugal with Sporting. There he became a world-class player, playing the World Cup next to Cristiano Ronaldo, so you could expect a big move.

"Now he is at United, one of the most glorious clubs in Europe, and he fully deserves it. He epitomises the idea that a player can always improve throughout his career and achieve higher and higher results."

Fernandes was crowned United's Player of the Year in 2019-20, becoming the second Portuguese player to win the award after international team-mate Ronaldo. Since its inception in 1987-88, no player has won the award having played as few games in a season as Fernandes' 22 in all competitions last term.

This season, Fernandes has scored 11 Premier League goals and supplied seven assists in 21 appearances as second-placed United dream of silverware. In total, he has managed 16 goals across all competitions.

Not since 2013 – Alex Ferguson's final season at the Theatre of Dreams – have United won the Premier League but Fernandes' presence has awoken a sleeping giant after years of mediocrity. While Maguire wears the armband, the 26-year-old Fernandes is a demanding figure on and off the pitch.

"He didn't stay long in the youth team and then in the first squad because he moved to Serie A right away, so he didn't have the chance to become a captain [at Novara]," Borghetti said. "But he is a soul captain, his personality makes him an example on the pitch and as a professional. He always proved this so I am not surprised at all that in his career and now he is so mature as a leader and could be shortlisted for being the captain." 

As Fernandes continues to take England by storm, Borghetti added: "When I watch him on TV, I feel satisfaction. I follow United more now because there is a kid I know who plays there. Whatever he achieved was done thanks to his skills, exclusively his merit. On the other hand, a glimpse of importance is mine because with one evaluation I gave him the chance to prove himself.

"Novara in his history, although short, was a chance to shine. Without Novara, maybe Bruno would have got to the highest level anyway through different paths, but since this cannot be proved, I can say Novara and I have been an important stepping-stone for him." 

"I think he is at a high level now," he said. "To improve he should only win individual trophies or with his team domestically and in Europe. That is what he should do with Manchester United. On a personal level, it is the athlete's constant aim to improving all the time, but now Bruno is at such a high level where improvements are now difficult."

"Please, Mr Matic, get out to the ball," said an anguished Rio Ferdinand as BT Sport replayed Oliver Burke's winning goal for Sheffield United at Old Trafford.

It came after a passage of lacklustre Manchester United play that Ferdinand insisted would not have been allowed in "yesteryear", in which players ambled back, stood stock still or pointed in vain before Burke fired in a shot via Axel Tuanzebe's knee.

He took his shot just in time – there was one Manchester United player sprinting back to challenge in a desperate attempt to lift his ailing side. No prizes for guessing who that was.

Bruno Fernandes will celebrate one year as a United player on Saturday. His transfer from Sporting CP for an initial fee of £47million in January 2020 came after a similar abject home defeat for United, on that occasion against Burnley.

That 2-0 loss was a shock only in historical terms given the 20-time champions of England were on a dismal run at the time, the latest setback making it four defeats in seven. Things were different on Wednesday, when Sheffield United ended their hosts' 13-match Premier League unbeaten streak and prevented the Red Devils from returning to the top of the table.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side had reached the halfway stage of this campaign 12 points better off than in 2019-20, and 23 points closer to the leaders. There has been undeniable progress in the past 12 months, inspired by Fernandes. Across all competitions, he has been involved in 45 goals – more than any other player for a Premier League club. Only Harry Maguire (53) has made more competitive appearances for United than the Portuguese (52), but the former Sporting star has scored the most goals (28), assisted his team-mates the most often (17) and created the most goalscoring chances (136).

Fernandes has been a transformative signing, in the mould of Eric Cantona and Robin van Persie – but, crucially, without the trophies. When it comes to the league title, he has made United believe again. But as doubts return over his team's credentials, is belief alone enough?

IT WAS A VERY GOOD YEAR

Fernandes ended 2020 winning his fourth Premier League Player of the Month award, becoming the first to get that many in a calendar year. For that award, he has already matched the tallies of United greats Paul Scholes and Cristiano Ronaldo and is just one behind Wayne Rooney and Van Persie.

He's been directly involved in 33 goals in his first 34 appearances (19 goals, 14 assists), a figure bettered only by Andrew Cole (41) in the history of the Premier League – all this despite not being involved in a goal in any of his most recent four appearances in the competition.

From his debut on February 1, 2020 until January 28 this year, he has had the most direct goal involvements in the competition (33); only Kevin De Bruyne had more assists (15 > 14) and only Mohamed Salah more goals (20 > 19). In fact, the impact of the attacking midfielder has been so great that United have won more points in the Premier League than any other side since his arrival (72) – one ahead of rivals City (71).

Such were his talismanic efforts on the pitch during 2019-20, Fernandes was crowned the club's Player of the Year, becoming the second Portuguese player to win the award after Cristiano Ronaldo. Since its inception in 1987-88, no player has won the award having played as few games in a season as Fernandes' 22 in all competitions in 2019-20.

So integral has he been to Solskjaer's plans that he has missed just two games in 2020-21 – domestic cup wins over Brighton and Hove Albion, and Watford – and, when he was finally given a rest against Liverpool in the FA Cup last weekend, he promptly came off the bench to score the winning free-kick.

UNITED'S HEART AND SOUL

Beyond the goals and assists output, Fernandes, as the odd defensive sprint highlights, is a player who likes to be involved. Examine shot-ending sequence involvements in the Premier League from his debut to January 28 this year – that's a measure of how players contribute to the creation of shots in open play – and only De Bruyne (220) is above Fernandes (212).

For such sequences ending in goals, Fernandes is top of the pile on 33, five above anyone else. Similarly, if you look at multi chance involvements (the number of unique shot-ending sequences in open play, where the player in question created the chance and was involved in the build-up), Fernandes (21) is second only to Jack Grealish (24) – the heartbeat of an exciting Aston Villa.

Former United captain Bryan Robson sees someone else in Fernandes, telling Stats Perform: "After the first six games, I couldn't give him any bigger compliment than say he's the closest to Paul Scholes I've seen," he told Stats Perform. "The way he turns with his back to play, the vision he's got, the touch on the ball, the great goals he scores…

"Every time he gets on the ball, his first thought is to look forward and try and put somebody in. He's so quick on little one-twos in and around the last third. He's a bit like De Bruyne. He doesn't lazily pass it backwards; he's always looking to try and hurt the opposition.

"I like that he demands from his team-mates around. It's okay demanding, but if they can see the work and effort you are putting in, then you get a good response."

NOT JUST 'PENANDES'

Many Fernandes detractors will argue that his goal tally is inflated due to the propensity that United are awarded penalties.

He has scored nine times in the Premier League from the penalty spot since his debut, but he's still scored 10 league goals when excluding spot-kicks. He's posted a non-penalty expected goals/90 average of 0.24, which is just below that of De Bruyne (0.26) over that period. To put this simply, even if you take away penalties, he's getting in positions to score a goal every four games from open play – a decent return for a midfielder.

Fernandes has added a new dimension to United's attacking play and they have certainly found a player that can unpick opposition defences with the regularity that they have so often missed in recent years.

He has an expected assists total of 6.5 from open play since his Premier League debut – only Grealish (6.8) and De Bruyne (7.5) can boast a higher level of creative input for their teams since February 1, 2020.

In the 12 months before Fernandes' arrival at the club, United's best creative player from open play was Marcus Rashford with an open-play expected assists tally of 3.9 – nearly half that of Fernandes' total in his first year at the Red Devils.

After that shock defeat to bottom club Sheffield United, United find themselves a point off City with their rivals still having a game in hand. With their next four league games coming against tricky opposition all placed between fifth and 11th, this period could make or break their title challenge.

Fernandes has spent a year making United better, but Solskjaer's men still rely on him to lead by example to get results. He has dragged the Red Devils back into a title battle, but he cannot win it alone.

Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes insisted he does not need to be rested after coming off the bench to secure FA Cup victory over rivals Liverpool.

Fernandes was among the substitutes in Sunday's 3-2 FA Cup fourth-round triumph at Old Trafford, where he was introduced in the second half and scored the match-winning 78th-minute free-kick.

The Portugal international has now scored 28 goals for United in all competitions since his debut in February 2020 – more than any other player for a Premier League club.

Fernandes has helped rejuvenate United, who have gone from struggling to qualify for the Champions League to topping the Premier League table through 19 matches in 2020-21.

But Fernandes dismissed claims he is tired, saying: "Tired? With 26 years old I can't be tired. If I'm tired now, when I arrive at 30, 32, I will not play.

"I will play one game in five [days] so, no, I'm not tired."

Fernandes, who dropped out of the starting line-up for Donny van de Beek against Liverpool, added: "Of course the coach knows what is better for the team and he chose to play with Donny to give some freshness to the team.

"I think it's fair enough because Donny is training really well, he's been important for us and will be more and more important in the future."

Former Sporting CP captain Fernandes is determined to lead United to silverware, following three semi-final appearances last season in the Europa League, FA Cup and EFL Cup.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's United, who last won the Premier League in 2012-13, also lost in the semi-finals of this season's EFL Cup.

"I don't conform with [the idea that] losing games is normal stuff," said Fernandes. "For me, losing is not normal so my mentality comes from that, you know? I always was like this. I don’t like to lose, so maybe the mentality is more like I don't like to lose.

"Also playing whatever it is, when I was playing with my friends, my brother, my neighbours, I never wanted to lose, I want to win every time. This mentality will be with me for the rest of my life, I think."

United – two points clear of neighbours Manchester City, who have a game in hand – face Sheffield United on Wednesday, are through to the FA Cup fifth round and will meet Real Sociedad in the Europa League last 32.

Fernandes said: "I came to the club because I knew this is a club who wants to win everything. So you have to be confident, you have to trust your team-mates, you have to trust yourself, and you have to believe.

"And I will believe until it's not possible. Like when I see someone get the trophy before me [only] then I will [have] lost my belief."

Bruno Fernandes can fully understand Donny van de Beek's unhappiness and says his midfield team-mate's lack of playing time highlights Manchester United's strength in depth.

Netherlands international Van de Beek was handed his 10th start of the season in United's FA Cup fourth-round win over Liverpool on Sunday.

He struggled to make much of an impact at Old Trafford, however, as he touched the ball just 23 times and attempted 18 passes before being substituted with 66 minutes played.

Fernandes was brought on for the Dutchman and once again proved the difference for United by scoring a free-kick 12 minutes later to earn a 3-2 victory.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted on the eve of the game that Van de Beek is not happy with his lack of minutes and Fernandes has sympathy for the £40million close-season signing.

"Donny had a great game," he told MUTV. "Playing in the position I play, watching him he moves really good and played really well. 

"It's important for us. If I was in the position of Donny I would not be happy at all but the most important is doing what he does today, coming in and helping the team.

"We have a really good squad and we have options. If you look at the bench and the first XI today and the ones at home we have a really good squad.

"It will not be a problem if we change the team or someone is tired because we have really good players."

Fernandes has now scored 28 goals for United in all competitions since his debut in February 2020, which is more than any other player for a Premier League club.

His latest strike sets up a home tie with West Ham in the fifth round next month and, with United also top of the Premier League, Fernandes has his sights set on silverware.

"They're all important competitions for us," he said. "We have to go in the same way whatever the competition.

"We play in them all to win. Everyone knows winning the league is more special but for us players, it's about winning trophies regardless and this is a trophy we want to win."

United have now eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup proper on 10 occasions - only the Reds themselves have knocked out a single team more often, beating local rivals Everton 12 times.

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said the Red Devils made a "statement" with their uncompromising performance in the FA Cup win over Liverpool.

United's 3-2 victory at Old Trafford was clinched by a stunning 78th-minute free-kick from substitute Bruno Fernandes, after earlier goals from Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford on Sunday.

A double from Mohamed Salah had kept Liverpool firmly in the game before Fernandes cracked a sublime shot into the right corner, having spent extra time honing his technique on Saturday.

What most pleased Solskjaer was how United were able to thrive while playing their natural attacking game against Premier League champions Liverpool, rather than make special allowances for the opposition.

"We've found a way we believe in, the players believe in, and we're getting stronger and stronger," Solskjaer said.

"We look at the difference from a year ago or six months back. You can't take too many big strides at one point but we're gradually, layer by layer, getting better, winning tight games, so you have the morale and the confidence of course is very good.

"It's a good feeling to play on our terms."

Solskjaer said United have previously adopted "different systems to nullify opponents", but that was not the case in this fourth-round battle.

"Of course, that's a statement to ourselves," Solskjaer added. "That's a confidence boost that we can match the best with our style of football."

Everything the Norwegian boss appears to be turning to gold just now, with United top of the Premier League and through to a fifth-round cup tie against David Moyes' West Ham.

Even the decision to start with Fernandes on the bench proved a masterstroke, regardless of the fact replacement Donny van de Beek struggled at times.

The effect of Solskjaer's decision, relayed to his players on Saturday, meant Fernandes was granted more time to practise his set-pieces ahead of the game, and how that worked out.

Since his United debut in February 2020, Fernandes has scored more goals than any other play for Premier League clubs with 28.

Greenwood (19 years and 115 days) became the youngest United player to score against Liverpool since Wayne Rooney in January 2005, while the Manchester club eliminated Liverpool from the FA Cup for the 10th time – only the latter (12 against Everton) have knocked out a particular team on more occasions.

"Whenever he starts, I tell him to go straight in [from training] and he can't do extra free-kicks," Solskjaer said.

"Yesterday, I told him he wasn't playing so he stayed out practising for half an hour, 45 minutes. It worked and it paid off."

Rashford came off in the second half with a knee complaint, and Solskjaer said the forward would have a scan to determine if there is anything to worry over.

Attacking midfielder Jesse Lingard, not part of this matchday squad and a peripheral figure this season, could yet leave Old Trafford during this transfer window.

Solskjaer said he would "sit down with Jesse and decide what we're going to do", but did not exclude the possibility of him staying, suggesting Lingard could well come back into the first-team picture.

On a day when Donny van de Beek hoped to show why he deserves more minutes for Manchester United, up stepped Bruno Fernandes to show why that simply isn't happening.

The eye-catching selection of Van de Beek ahead of Fernandes for this FA Cup clash of giants at Old Trafford was all about "rotation", according to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

United's manager clearly felt his team could combat a faltering Liverpool team without their star man, albeit leaving him on the bench in case of emergency.

"Donny needs to be playing games as well and it's a big game for Donny to come into," Solskjaer told the BBC.

Van de Beek has not started a Premier League game since he was hauled off with United trailing at half-time at West Ham in early December, and he might not be starting any soon either given how this game transpired.

A 66th-minute switch of the Portuguese for the underwhelming Van de Beek proved pivotal, and the delightful free-kick from Fernandes that settled an absorbing game 3-2 in United's favour was one that had been conceived on Saturday.

"I think he stayed about 45 minutes after training yesterday shooting free-kicks, so I was quite confident that he was going to hit the target," Solskjaer said.

Solskjaer, the erstwhile supersub, knew the calibre of replacement that was up his sleeve, and the rotation worked in a roundabout way. Are we looking at more proof that United's once-maligned Norwegian boss is actually a tactical master?

Liverpool's season, meanwhile, takes another negative turn.

Donny fluffs his big chance

With a mere 18 passes and 23 touches, Van de Beek was peripheral in a midfield where Paul Pogba shone and Scott McTominay fought for every ball.

The former Ajax man had a glorious early chance to stamp his mark on the game when he burst into space on the right and looked sure to dart towards the penalty area, as Edinson Cavani waited for a pass in the centre.

But no. Van de Beek paused and decided to go backwards, and the chance was gone.

This game was a world away from the Anfield snore draw seven days previously in the Premier League, yet Van de Beek largely let it pass him by.

By the time Fernandes cracked his sublime winner into the right corner, Van de Beek must have been wondering when such an opportunity will arise again.

Salah shows he must start

Like Fernandes, Salah has seen his form and contribution questioned in recent weeks, and just as United's match-winner dispelled such criticism, so did Liverpool's main man.

After all the talk about front threes, and which of these sides had the most deadly attacking trio, Liverpool boss Jurgen Klopp went with a two-man strikeforce, Salah and Roberto Firmino linking up and Sadio Mane on the bench.

Both Salah and Firmino had been substitutes on Thursday for the defeat to Burnley, but they were a combination that United struggled to contain at times here.

Salah struck twice, the first a sublime chip, and Firmino set up both. The Brazilian has now assisted Salah for 18 goals during their time together at Liverpool, the most any player has set up another during Klopp's reign.

Unlike Firmino and Mane, Salah has exceeded his expected goals (xG) in the Premier League this season, with eight non-penalty goals from an xG of 5.3, and if Liverpool are to resurrect their season, the bench is surely no place for the Egyptian.

Glorious Greenwood

Mason Greenwood has not scored in the Premier League since that West Ham game, when he helped United turn their half-time deficit around and earn a 3-1 victory.

Here he looked lively from the early stages, albeit with one too many lollipops and insufficient tasty final product until he cancelled out Salah's opener.

The way the 19-year-old ended an 10-game barren spell spoke volumes of his belief, with Marcus Rashford's sweeping pass over the Liverpool defence finding his wing twin on the right and allowing Greenwood to thump a low shot past Alisson.

With Rashford also on target, this was quite a day to savour for the hosts.

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