EPL

Ten Hag thrilled with Fernandes' game intelligence in unorthodox role

By Sports Desk January 17, 2023

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag commended Bruno Fernandes for his mastery of an unorthodox role in Saturday's derby win as the Red Devils look to build on their momentum against Crystal Palace.

Fernandes scored the controversial equaliser against Manchester City at Old Trafford and was named Player of the Match for his tireless performance.

Although usually deployed in a central role, Fernandes spent much of the game out wide, tracking back to help Aaron Wan-Bissaka in the first half before switching to the left after Anthony Martial's half-time withdrawal.

Fernandes was also tasked with looking for early passes over the City defence, and this tactic helped United create a couple of openings in the first 45.

The Portugal midfielder will likely return to a more familiar position for Wednesday's trip to Selhurst Park, but Ten Hag was keen to acknowledge the effectiveness of Fernandes in what was a statement victory.

"The idea was with Bruno on the right wing, especially when defending," he said. "I think we defended as usual, but in possession [Fernandes] had a role to come in between the lines, to bring an extra player there, to bring the opponent problems and hesitation and confusion.

"He played the role really brilliant, on the right and on the left. I think the rest of the team adapted good to the situation.

"We had really good breaks by finding the free man, and Bruno was important in that role, and he was important in pressing as well.

"I didn't know he was Man of the Match, but he was my Man of the Match, definitely."

Beating City lifted United to within a point of the defending champions, with the win leaving many to declare Ten Hag's side as genuine title challengers.

The gravity of the result was not lost on Ten Hag, who was adamant the team needed to be allowed to celebrate it.

"Every win you have to celebrate," Ten Hag continued. "You work so hard for such momentum, and every win that is so great in top football, you can't not celebrate. You kill the energy [if you do not celebrate].

"We have to celebrate, but after we settle down after 24 hours. We move on to the next game, and to get in the right rhythm. Every third day we have to deliver, and the players have to get in right rhythm, physically and mentally, to be ready for the next game."

One player who would appear to be a doubt is Martial, who could only manage 45 minutes on Saturday.

However, Ten Hag suggested his withdrawal was about preventing injury rather than being a response to a new problem.

He added: "I hoped to avoid him getting injured. He was complaining, that's why he also didn't train in the week, he was a question mark.

"We decided, and he did as well, that he was also able to start, because I knew to start in this game was so important, especially because he's so good in pressing, he's a big element in our pressing, and he did that really well before half-time, but he was not able to go 100 per cent and that's what you need.

"To avoid getting injured, we took him off, but it had an impact on our game, a negative impact after half-time."

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