Erik ten Hag has found his next Manchester United captain
Man Utd showed their class in key moments to defeat Leicester in the Premier League on Sunday afternoon.
Erik ten Hag has got most of the big decisions right since he arrived at Manchester United, and it looks like he is already on course to get the next one spot on too.
Harry Maguire was never formally removed of the captain’s armband last summer, and even started the first two matches of the season before the drastic change was needed.
United have been a completely different side since that defeat at Brentford. So much emphasis is put on the ғᴀᴄᴛ that Casemiro was signed after it, but just as important was the switch to make Bruno Fernandes the captain.
The Portuguese has embraced the extra responsibility placed on his shoulders, not only leading by example on the pitch, but by selflessly sacrificing himself for the greater good of the team.
It is even more remarkable when you consider that Fernandes is not the archetypal Ten Hag midfielder either.
The United manager has worked hard to implement a controlled style of play, with an emphasis on ball retention and being sensible in possession, two things Fernandes has not always shown.
It was only natural that United would lose some authority in the middle of the park without both Casemiro and Christian Eriksen against Leicester, but it is credit to Fernandes that he helped make it work, even after another messy makeshift midfield showing in the first-half.
All of this meant that the greatest creative outlet, Fernandes, was repurposed onto the right wing again, sacrificing himself for the greater good of the team.
It is credit to the Portuguese that he doesn’t resent such a role, instead going about his business on the right with the same commitment as he does through the middle, though it must be so frustrating for him to play knowing he could have a greater impact on the team.
In the first-half against Leicester, he was at his effortless best. While there were moments of frustration, as ever with some of his decision-making, Fernandes was at the heart of everything United did well.
It was the 28-year-old who so nonchalantly carved open the Leicester defence with the outside of his boot to set-up Marcus Rashford the opener, and he would have had another assist had Diogo Dalot not poked wide from six-yards after a brilliant ball from his compatriot.
Fernandes’ performance on the right was so impressive that even after the introduction of Jadon Sancho at half-time, it was he who occupied the flank, with Sancho playing just behind Weghorst through the middle.
This gave United a new impetus in the game, and it was crucial in their frantic start to the second half, when they scored twice to end the game and any hopes of a comeback.
It all came together for the third goal as well, as United won the ball back and launched a lethal counter-ᴀᴛᴛᴀᴄᴋ. Sancho raced through the middle so fast he could have got a speeding ticket, playing give-and-goes with both Rashford and Fernandes before firing home from inside the box.
The moment belonged to the rejuvenated Sancho, but Fernandes was once again the unsung hero, with a perfectly-weighted assist that would have stopped the momentum had it been a centimetre off.
It was another day in which he not only led by example, but also did so out-of-position when his team needed him most
Fernandes is the new United captain in all but name, and next weekend he deserves the chance to lift a trophy with the armband as well.