Man Utd faced Burnley in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday night and Bruno Fernandes was influential in the outcome.
Manchester United had a very simple objective for their return to competitive action against Burnley last night: let the football do the talking.
It had been a long six-week break since they last took to the field in a meaningful match, so long ago that Cristiano Ronaldo’s bombshell interview had not even been teased at that point.
A lot has happened in that time, and United have become even stronger under the guidance of Erik ten Hag, such was his firm handling of Ronaldo’s exit and the fallout that came from it.
In his absence, there was a void left to fill, not necessarily in regard to what he had offered on the pitch this season, but more so in regard to the authoritative role he occupied in the squad.
Even though there was a noticeable second-string feeling to the match, it was one that required professionalism and experience, two things summarised up by the approach of the talismanic Bruno Fernandes.
On the back of a stellar showing at the World Cup, the 28-year-old justified wearing the captain’s armband on his sleeve with another impressive display, the type that has been taken for granted in comparison to his early form at the club.
Fernandes has always been unfairly compared to the ridiculous number of goals he scored in his first 18 months at the club, but he is still just as important to the team in a more refined role.
He is no longer the sole star with a world-class ceiling at United’s disposal, and so there is now less of an expectation for him to be the headline act, such is his natural gift at being the conductor.
It was in this role that he managed to shine again against Burnley, acting as the beating heart of a side that is starting to breathe again after a stagnant few weeks.
United were rusty and sloppy for large parts of the game, but in the moments that mattered, Fernandes stood up to be counted, methodically opening up the opposition defence and controlling the tempo of the game.
After a cagey opening to the match, it was the Portuguese playmaker who made something happen when his wonderful pass carved open the Burnley defence and gave Aaron Wan-Bissaka the platform to set-up the opening goal.
It was a theme that would continue throughout the match. Fernandes was never directly the centre of attention, but he was always involved whenever United launched a meaningful attack.
He would have had another pre-assist after the break when a perfectly weighted pass picked out Marcus Rashford on the right wing, only for Scott McTominay to fire wide from the edge of the box.
In the latter stages of the match, he helped his side control the occasion, instructing teammates when to push forward and helping to wind down the clock with demands to take their time when in possession.
Ten Hag might be the manager, but Fernandes is very much the embodiment of the style of play he is looking to implement and the man he trusts to make sure it is carried out on the pitch.
f some people were hoping for United to look flustered in the wake of Ronaldo’s departure, they instead got a thoroughly deserved win from a side still building fitness, one that never looked like losing.
United might have lost their poster boy, but they’ve still got their beating heart.