Premier League is better with unique Fernandes magic

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It has been a while – if ever – since the Premier League has seen a player like Bruno Fernandes.

The Manchester United midfielder, who joined this January from Portuguese club Sporting CP, has so far been worth every single penny of the $70 million the Red Devils forked over. At 25 years old, Fernandes was minted as the PFA Player of the Month for February on Monday, and it’s no surprise to see him garner plaudits left and right since his arrival a month ago.

What makes Bruno Fernandes so wonderful to watch – and concurrently so valuable to Manchester United – is also what makes him look on paper to be total chaos personified. He is, quite literally, everywhere. When his movements are transcribed onto graphical images, Bruno Fernandes appears to be a chicken with his head cut off. He kind of is, but it’s obviously more nuanced than that.

First, the fun part. Here’s what his last three matches before that look like on paper, followed by his heat maps for the entire season thus far, from both Sporting CP first and then Manchester United. (Click here for a key of the StatsZone app dashboards)

As you can see, the new Manchester United talisman covers nearly the entire attacking half of the field. He also contributes a heavy amount defensively, to moderate success. This isn’t exactly what sets him completely apart, but it’s the start. Few players are able to cover this amount of attacking ground while having such an effect on the game. Kevin De Bruyne is a player with similar freedom, and he has budded into maybe the most destructive creative force in Europe.

Yet while de Bruyne is more of a facilitator, Fernandes is more of a nomad. The Portuguese international doesn’t exactly feature on the ball nearly as much as his Belgian counterpart across town, instead choosing to float and wander looking for pockets of space as his teammates share the workload. If you watch Bruno Fernandes off the ball, he’s continually serving as a foil for his fellow attackers, often drifting away from a ball-carrier’s direction where space is available hoping to either carry too many defenders or none at all.

Bruno Fernandes picks his spots.

That was never more evident than against Manchester City, where the midfielder had to take special care and not waste what precious little possession the Red Devils had. With the visitors holding an enormous possessional advantage at Old Trafford – Man City out-passed Manchester United 671-215 – Fernandes was forced to make the most of the scraps he could find. He started the game out on the right flank as Anthony Martial found joy down the opposite end, but soon drifted centrally and then to his favored left edge as Daniel James grew in influence on the ball. He eventually found his moment, first earning the key 29th minute foul before serving up the game’s most critical moment.

When he did deliver, it highlighted another of his wide-ranging skill set: Bruno Fernandes is a set-piece wizard. Not only does he consistently deliver excellent corners into dangerous areas, but his chipped free-kick was left on a platter for Anthony Martial on the opening goal. All told, Fernandes seemingly did more with his limited touches – 25 received passes, 24 attempted passes – than Manchester City did all 90 minutes while hoofing a massive 33 crosses and appearing devoid of any creative flair. At the end of the match, despite the huge gulf in possession, Manchester United had somehow out-shot Man City 12-7.

Watch the Every Touch video posted above. What do you notice? Yes, Manchester United was sloppy against Manchester City at times, and Fernandes included. That’s what happens when you play the Pep Guardiola swarm and press. Still, every time he loses the ball he races back to try and challenge, and every time he connects with a teammate there’s a calming presence before he races off to find space of his own off the ball.

Where else can you find a player with this varied and unique skill set?

De Bruyne is the most obvious comparison, but the Belgian does not tackle at such a rate – Fernandes has him almost double, with two tackles per game to de Bruyne’s 1-3. Tackling is still an area of improvement for Fernandes, having whiffed on all five of his attempts against Manchester City to leave him 10/29 so far in Premier League play, but the pressing output is the important part for an attacking player like Fernandes. Otherwise, statistically KDB has a mimic on his hands, which is high praise.

Mesut Ozil is a player that, when at his best, can be a versatile and diverse attacking player but he also wouldn’t dare produce the defensive contributions (0.9 tackles, 0.3 interceptions, and 0.1 clearances per game to Bruno Fernandes’ 2.0, 1.0, and 1.8). Mason Mount will track back every so often, but his usage is far more one-sided as the Chelsea youngster favors the left flank. Fernandes’ countrymate Joao Moutinho is closer statistically than one might think, considering he currently sits eighth in the Premier League in chances created, but he still does not get forward with the fluidity and consistency that Fernandes does, instead anchored in the middle of the Wolves formation and favoring the left side.

In typical Ole Gunnar Solskjaer fashion, the Manchester United boss compared his new signing to a Red Devils great in Paul Scholes, in part thanks to the number of the back of his shirt, and Wayne Rooney echoed that comparison just a few days ago, according to the Mirror, after Derby County was dropped by Manchester United in the FA Cup. In truth, Fernandes has a bit more flair than Scholes did, and that’s not a knock on the midfield legend. Fernandes simply seems to play with a little less strength and a little more finesse than was Scholes’ calling card.

There really is no other player quite like Bruno Fernandes, and he could be the foundation upon which Manchester United builds its new era. There is a new great player who calls the Premier League home, and that should excite fans of all teams, even those who are adversely affected by his magic.

European bodies implore member associations to wait to abandon seasons

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UEFA is speaking up regarding its hope to finish club seasons once the environment is safer.

Sky Sports reports that UEFA has sent a letter to its 55 members associations imploring them not to cancel their competitions early and that they exhaust all options “until the last possibility exists.”

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

The letter is signed by UEFA president Aleksander Ceferin, European Club Association chairman Andrea Agnelli and European Leagues president Lars-Christer Olsson.

The report comes as the Belgian Super League reportedly prepares to award its league title to Club Brugge on April 15. The league would be the first to see its season abandoned due to the coronavirus pandemic.

From Sky Sports:

“We are confident that football can restart in the months to come – with conditions that will be dictated by public authorities – and believe that any decision of abandoning domestic competitions is, at this stage, premature and not justified.”

Many leagues, such as the Premier League, continue to suspend their seasons indefinitely as they wait for improvements with the coronavirus pandemic.

Although UEFA have relaxed their previous stance that domestic seasons should be finished by June 30, it is looking more likely that the 2019-20 season would need until August or September.

Burning question: Which clubs have the best crest, look in soccer?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Which clubs have the best crest and uniform combination?

It’s a difficult one, as some are great on the former and others on the latter. Look at the Premier League alone. Liverpool and Chelsea have terrific crests, iconic even, but the Reds and Blues’ traditional uniforms are not altogether different from several big clubs in the world. It’s difficult to lay claim to red.

We’re not kicking either of the above clubs out of the house party, but here are five looks that are inevitably theirs.

That said, you might argue the case of either club and we’d encourage you to do so in the comments.

Without further ado…

Pele won three World Cups with Brazil during their golden era.

Brazil

The yellow shirt with a dosing of green around the neck is instantly associated with Brazil, though the more green on the collar the better. The blue shorts matter here, too, completing a look worn by some of the greatest players of all-time. That helps the brand.

Celtic

The green and white hoops are unmistakable, as is the four-leaf clover. Celtic actually wore green-and-white horizontal stripes for the early part of their existence, but the hoops were the proper switch.

Barcelona

The Blaugranas — blue and dark red, don’t you know? — striped-top has met the stripes in its crest, which also is topped by the red-and-white cross and red and gold stripes of the Barcelona coat of arms. Many say the stripes were brought to Spain by its Swiss leader, Joan Gamper.

Arsenal

The Gunners moved white sleeves onto their red tops in the 1930s, and the look is one of the most iconic in the world. While the crest has changed more than a few times, the addition of a cannon from the middle of the last century onward has been everpresent.

(Photo by IAN KINGTON/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Also considered:
Ajax
River Plate
Real Madrid
England
Argentina
AC Milan
Inter Milan
The Netherlands
Mexico
Dozens more…

PFA explains position as players urged to take pay cuts

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The Professional Footballers Association is explaining why it has not yet accepted deferred pay cuts during the coronavirus suspension, and the English government is not withholding its opinion.

As non-playing staff accept furloughs or worse across the tiers of English football and players in other European nations accept pay cuts, the PFA has not found an arrangement to its liking.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights

Health secretary Matthew Hancock addressed the situation in his daily public briefing.

From Sky Sports:

“Given the sacrifices people are making, including some of my colleagues in the NHS, who have made the ultimate sacrifice and gone into work and caught the disease and have sadly died, I think the first thing Premier League footballers can do is make a contribution; take a pay cut and play their part.”

That’s a heavy statement, one that surely resonates with all.

The PFA issued a post on its site that runs up nearly 1000 words on its position, stating that a big part of its concern is representing League One and League Two players. Those members do not receive the massive pay packets of PL stars.

Basically, what the PFA is requesting is time to make an educated decision considering the books and futures of every club are different. They’d like to see those books to make sure that if players are making a sacrifice that shareholders are as well.

From ThePFA.com:

We fully accept that players will have to be flexible and share the financial burden of the COVID-19 outbreak in order to secure the long-term future of their own club and indeed the wider game. Our advice going out to players at this point reflects that expectation.

In addition, the PFA is also expecting to contribute financially to any solutions agreed upon.

Like everyone else in the country, we are trying to deal with a situation that has never been faced. Our spirits have been lifted seeing communities come together to support each other. We have been proud to see many of our own members and clubs step up to support the NHS, to help children who would usually benefit from free school meals, donating to food banks and other charitable donations to those affected by this crisis. Much of this has been done privately and without publicity.

Obviously there will be a resolution to this soon, but it’s a complex and layered situation. Bournemouth manager Eddie Howe became the first PL boss to take a voluntary pay cut on Wednesday, with Brighton’s Graham Potter following suit.

Burning question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?

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This week at ProSoccerTalk we will be asking some burning questions we have when it comes to the beautiful game and the next one focuses on something we all have: a team we like that we don’t want to admit.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ] 

Each day we will release a burning question, as now seems like a good time to take stock of where the game is at and take a look at what we love and what we’d like to change as we await its return following the suspension due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Next question: Who is your guilty pleasure team?


Think about it. You don’t have to admit it out loud if you don’t want to. We all have one. Admit it.

There’s a team out there you have dismissed to your friends, family and maybe random strangers on social media but secretly, when nobody else is with you, you watch them play and admire them.

That said team are your guilty pleasure.

It’s okay to admit it. Honest. There will be no judgement here because we are all in the same boat.

It can be a team from the same league as your team, or a club from another league in another country, or just, you know, a team that people aside from you despise.

A lot of the big boys bring up polarizing views as many neutrals loath mega clubs who win trophies season after season and scoff at their huge wage bill, well-manicured stadiums and incredible commercial success. ‘This isn’t proper football’ you often cry. Deep down, you admire some of those teams, don’t you?

It would be remiss of me to ask you to reveal your guilty pleasure team in the comments below our via our social media post on Twitter without revealing my own so here it goes.

Atletico Madrid.

For years I’ve been an admirer of Atletico, way back when Diego Simeone was a player for them in midfield and they won the 1995-96 La Liga title with a huge ‘MARBELLA’ sponsor logo on their baggy shirts, as they also won the Copa del Rey that season to bring utter delight to the Vicente Calderon stadium after a 19-year wait for the league title.

A lot has changed since then and Atleti have become a polarizing team for becoming the ultimate masters of the dark arts with a squad of players who are perfectly happy with putting all of their personal talent to one side to play as a destructive, defensive, winning team.

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Simeone’s antics may not be the prettiest (the vision of one of his crotch-pulsing celebrations are now etched into your head forever) and he may tell his players to stretch the rules as far as they possibly can on the field, but I respect the hustle. Simeone has always been this way, from his reaction to David Beckham’s kick in the 1998 World Cup in his playing days to his cojones celebration, he has pushed the boundaries. After being forced to rebuild his team almost on a yearly basis since he took charge in 2011 as he’s lost star after star (Aguero, Costa, Falcao and Griezmann to name a few), he forces his players into punishing hill runs each summer and expects nothing but 100 percent effort each and every time they step on the pitch.

It was recently revealed El Cholo was the highest-paid manager in the world and you can’t argue that he doesn’t deserve it.

I respect that somehow Atletico have now become competitive amid the utter dominance of Real Madrid and Barcelona in Spanish soccer for pretty much the last six decades. Since he took charge they have won three Europa League titles, the La Liga title in 2014 and reached two UEFA Champions League finals (losing both to Real in 2014 and 2016) as well as ousting defending champs Liverpool in the UCL in dramatic fashion to reach the last eight this season. Cue more Simeone celebrations.

The next time you watch Atletico Madrid play, imagine me sat alone somewhere in a dark room with a bowl of peanuts and a beer, nodding my head like that famous Jack Nicholson gif from Anger Management.

Diego Simeone and Atletico Madrid are the masters of shithousery.

‘That’s right, Diego Costa, you flick his ear off the ball’ and ‘look at Simeone screaming at the home fans in disgust when they boo an Atletico player for getting a tactical yellow. Give it to them!’ will be likely comments from myself.

I’ve aired my dirty laundry in public. Now, feel free to do the same and tell us which team is your guilty pleasure.

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