Kevin De Bruyne came back to haunt his old club as his fine strike handed Premier League leaders Manchester City a 1-0 win over Chelsea on Saturday.

Against no side has De Bruyne scored more Premier League goals than he has against the Blues (five), with this total the most against Chelsea by any player who has previously played for them in the competition.

Elsewhere, Manchester United threw away a two-goal lead at Aston Villa to draw 2-2, with Philippe Coutinho sealing a point on his debut following his loan move from Barcelona.

Wolves beat Southampton 3-1 and Norwich City piled the pressure on Rafael Benitez with a 2-1 win over Everton, while strugglers Newcastle United and Watford played out a 1-1 draw.

Here, Stats Perform unpacks the pick of the Opta data from another eventful day in the Premier League.

Manchester City 1-0 Chelsea: De Bruyne edges Guardiola's men closer to the title

City's seemingly unstoppable march towards the Premier League title continued with a 12th straight top-flight win.

It marked the ninth run of 12 or more victories in the competition's history, with Pep Guardiola's side now responsible for four of those.

The decisive goal came from Kevin De Bruyne, the Belgium international superbly whipping into the bottom-right corner from distance with 20 minutes remaining.

De Bruyne has scored 21 Premier League goals from outside the penalty area – the most of any player since his first season with City (2015-16), and the joint-most of any Citizens player in the competition's history (level with Sergio Aguero).

Chelsea scarcely landed a blow on their hosts, failing to register a single shot in the first half. Indeed, they had just seven touches in City's penalty area – their fewest in a single Premier League match since January 2015 (also seven vs Man City).

Aston Villa 2-2 Manchester United: Red Devils squander two-goal lead

A stirring late fight back from Villa meant United failed to win a Premier League away game in which they led by 2+ goals for the first time since January 2016 against Newcastle (3-3).

Bruno Fernandes' opener was the first Premier League goal United have scored from a set piece situation this season (excluding penalties), before the Portugal international doubled their advantage in the second period.  

Since making his United debut in February 2020, only Mohamed Salah (45) and Harry Kane (34) have scored more Premier League goals than Fernandes (33), while only James Ward-Prowse (seven) has scored more goals from outside the box in the competition during this period than the Portuguese (six).

Jacob Ramsey inspired a memorable comeback, though, the 20-year-old becoming the first Villa player to both score and assist against United in a single Premier League game since John Carew in April 2009, and the third-youngest player to do it against the Red Devils in the Premier League overall after Kelechi Iheanacho in September 2016 and Harry Kewell in November 1998.

Coutinho ensured the points were shared in what was his first Premier League appearance in 1477 days (for Liverpool vs Leicester City in December 2017).

Norwich City 2-1 Everton: Idah gets off the mark to put Benitez on the brink

The Canaries kick-started their bid for survival with a second win in six Premier League home games under Dean Smith – as many as they managed in their final 21 home games in the competition under previous manager Daniel Farke.

There were just 92 seconds between Michael Keane's own goal and Adam Idah's first Premier League strike, the hosts scoring as many times inside the opening 18 minutes as they had in their previous eight top-flight matches combined (one).

Idah's goal was his first in 27 Premier League appearances, while it was his first league goal since May 2021, when he scored in Norwich's final game of the Championship season.

The result meant Everton, who pulled one back through Richarlison, have won just 19 points from their 19 league games this season. Only twice previously have they had fewer at this stage of a Premier League campaign (17 in 1997-98 and 2005-06) and it looks as though Benitez's time may be up.

Wolves 3-1 Southampton: Traore off the mark as hosts' fine season continues

Wolves completed a top-flight double over Southampton for the first time since 1971-72, as well as winning three in a row against Saints in the top tier for the first time since October 1970.

Raul Jimenez and Conor Coady put them 2-0 up before the hour mark, with the latter's three Premier League goals coming from just four shots on target in 134 appearances.

Saints captain James Ward-Prowse scored his 12th direct free-kick goal in the Premier League to reduce the deficit – a haul bettered only by David Beckham (18).

However, Adama Traore's first goal in 22 top-flight appearances ensured Wolves picked up 31 points from their first 20 games of the season – their best return at this stage of a top-flight campaign since 1979-80 (also 31 points) when they finished in sixth place.

Ralf Rangnick believes Manchester United took another "step forward" despite feeling as if they had lost after throwing away a two-goal lead in Saturday's 2-2 draw with Aston Villa.

United found themselves 2-0 up in the 67th minute thanks to Bruno Fernandes' brace, his first-half opener a result of an Emiliano Martinez error and his emphatic second coming after Morgan Sanson's poor pass.

But it was a case of United being unable to get over the line, with Jacob Ramsey pulling one back before then teeing up Philippe Coutinho to net the crucial equaliser on his debut with eight minutes left.

United did control large parts of the match and arguably looked at their most fluent in attack under Ralf Rangnick, with Mason Greenwood and Anthony Elanga both threatening from the flanks.

But Rangnick could not hide his frustration at United failing to maintain their level into the dying stages.

"It is very difficult to find positives after these 95 minutes," he told Sky Sports. "I felt it was the best game since I came here, in the first half for 30 minutes, when we dominated the game. We had taken some steps forward but have a few things to do better.

"The plan was to press them in the midzone and we did that very well in the first 30 minutes, and control the ball, and those were the positives. When you are 2-0 up you have to defend better than we did in the last 15 minutes.

"We gave away too many balls at times in the last 15 minutes, we were not as compact as before and conceded the two goals. In the last 15 minutes before half-time we were not as courageous to step up, it was better in the second half and then you have to take the three points home. It feels like a defeat, to be honest.

"Right now it's very disappointing but what we showed was a step forward, but it's about getting the results, it feels like two points lost and given away."

Fernandes' first goal was only his second since September, with the midfielder – who wore the captain's armband – appearing to thrive a little more in the absence of Cristiano Ronaldo, missing out with a hip injury.

While he acknowledged the performance was better than some recent efforts, Fernandes was left bemoaning United's lack of ruthless in the final third, something Ronaldo may have been able to do something about.

"We got into the perfect position to score more goals and take the third goal and finish the game, but we don't get our chance on the counters and gave the chances to them," he added.

"They have good players up front and draw the game, it is tough to take because I think the game was under control.

"After our first goal they began to press us more, but still we had our chances and could have scored again. Sometimes the shot was not good, or the pass was not good and you start losing confidence, the game got more open and they got more space between the lines. With the quality of players they have up front, they hurt you.

"The performance was better than the result, more controlled but the main point is winning games and points. We deserved more, but it's not about deserving, it's about getting points.

"We still have a lot to improve but it is about performance and results together."

United remain seventh in the Premier League as a result of the draw.

Philippe Coutinho scored a late equaliser on his debut as Aston Villa recovered from two down to draw 2-2 with Manchester United at Villa Park on Saturday.

United looked set to seal a morale-boosting and hard-fought victory thanks to Bruno Fernandes' brace, but Villa fought back in the final 13 minutes to secure an unlikely point.

There was undoubtedly a hint of fortune about United's opener, an Emiliano Martinez howler allowing Fernandes to score for only the second time in the Premier League since September, but the Portugal star's second was an emphatic effort.

That looked as though it would be enough for United, but Jacob Ramsey scored and then teed up new loan signing Coutinho to rescue a draw with a dream debut goal.

It took United – who were without Cristiano Ronaldo and Marcus Rashford due to injury – just six minutes to score, though Martinez gave them more than a helping hand, inexplicably allowing Fernandes' long-range strike squirm through his legs.

Villa came to life towards the end of the half, but David de Gea was equal to Emi Buendia's near-post header and debutant Lucas Digne's controlled strike.

Chances continued to flow at either end after the restart, with Anthony Elanga going close twice and Ramsey forcing De Gea into a smart save.

But Fernandes was less wasteful, his drive clattering in off the crossbar after a Morgan Sanson error led to Fred feeding United's captain.

Villa rallied, however. Ramsey pulled one back with a well-taken left-footed finish inside the box before playing an inch-perfect pass across goal for Coutinho to smash home five minutes later.

Bruno Fernandes joked April Fools' Day has come early as the Manchester United midfielder moved to rubbish reports linking him with a move to Barcelona.

The Portugal international is approaching the two-year anniversary since arriving at United from Sporting CP and has been arguably the club's best performer over that period.

However, reports from Fernandes' homeland on Saturday claimed the 27-year-old is seeking a way out of Old Trafford and has been offered to Barcelona by his agent.

Fernandes was quick to call out those reports, though, with a message posted on his personal Instagram page.

"And I thought the new year only started a few days ago, yet we're already on April 1!" he said in a direct response to SPORT TV's report.

"Or is this once again just bad journalism?"

 

Fernandes still has three and a half years to run on the contract signed when arriving from Sporting in a deal worth up to £68million (€80m) in January 2020.

Since his debut on February 1 that year – a goalless home draw with Wolves – Fernandes has played 104 times for United in all competitions.

That is at least 10 times more than any other United player, with Harry Maguire (94) next on the list, the pair having both started 93 times over that period.

He has been directly involved in 79 goals in those two years – 45 goals and 34 assists – a tally bettered by only six others among players from clubs in Europe's top five leagues.

But Fernandes has not been quite as effective this term, coinciding with the return of Cristiano Ronaldo, with 19 players boasting more than his eight Premier League goals involvements.

Phil Jones will make his first Premier League start in two years for Manchester United, while Bruno Fernandes was left on the bench for the visit of Wolves.

Jones last started a top-flight game against Burnley in January 2020 but injury issues with Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly, along with COVID-19 complications for Victor Lindelof, have left United short-handed in defence.

The 712 days between games for Jones is the longest gap any player who has not left the club - including loan spells - has had between appearances for the Red Devils in the competition.

The former Blackburn defender, who missed the entire 2020-21 season, has been an unused substitute in five league games this campaign, though he will join Raphael Varane at the back on Monday.

Further forward, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood will operate in behind Cristiano Ronaldo and Edinson Cavani, meaning Fernandes is left among the substitutes for the clash with Bruno Lage's side.

The Portugal international was absent from the 3-1 win over Burnley last Thursday due to suspension, after he and compatriot Ronaldo came into criticism from Sky pundit Gary Neville for their body language during a disappointing 1-1 draw at Newcastle.

Fernandes was an integral figure in propelling United to Champions League qualification last campaign as he netted 28 times in all competitions. 

That was the best return by a midfielder for a Premier League club in a single campaign, surpassing Frank Lampard's 27 for Chelsea in 2009-10, but he has failed to hit those lofty heights this term with five top-flight goals to his name so far.

Wolves make two changes as Francisco Trincao and Nelson Semedo come into the starting line-up, while Adama Traore starts on the bench for the visitors.

TEAMS

Manchester United: David de Gea, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Phil Jones, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, Mason Greenwood, Jadon Sancho, Edinson Cavani, Cristiano Ronaldo. Subs: Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard, Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Diogo Dalot, Dean Henderson, Alex Telles, Donny van de Beek, Anthony Elanga.

Wolves: Jose Sa, Max Kilman, Conor Coady, Romain Saiss, Nelson Semedo, Ruben Neves, Joao Moutinho, Marcal, Francisco Trincao, Raul Jimenez, Daniel Podence. Subs: Ki-Jana Hoever, Rayan Ait Nouri, Bruno Jordao, Fabio Silva, John Ruddy, Leander Dendoncker, Adama Traore, Luke Cundle, Hugo Bueno.

Ralf Rangnick insisted Manchester United must develop as a "whole team", adding that a partnership between Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes was not his priority.

Ronaldo returned to Old Trafford in early September and has since netted 14 goals across all competitions as he leads the Premier League and Champions League scoring charts.

The 36-year-old found the net and assisted another in a comfortable 3-1 win over Burnley that moved United up to sixth on Thursday – the forward registering double figures for goal involvements in a 17th consecutive league season.

But there have been questions about whether Ronaldo and compatriot Fernandes, who missed the Burnley game through suspension, can fit into the same team together and work effectively.

Former United captain Gary Neville aimed criticism at the pair following a disappointing 1-1 draw with Newcastle United on Monday, labelling the duo as "whingebags" who were having a "devastating" impact on United's underwhelming season thus far.

Rangnick previously commented on the body language of United players in the slender win over Norwich City, while he has also insisted that the Red Devils will not solely rely on the Portugal pair.

"Against Burnley, we had to play without Bruno and again we did well, we played with two strikers, two wingers, two number sixes, every player in his best possible position," he told Sky Sports.

"This is another thing we are trying to achieve, no matter which formation we are trying to play we have every player in his best possible position.

"So it is not only about the partnership between Cristiano and Bruno, it is about partnerships between other players.

"Yesterday [Thursday] it was about a partnership between Edinson [Cavani] and Cristiano and it worked well. Edinson was the player with the highest distance [covered] in the whole team.

"Since we will change the team and starting line-up every game it is about different partnerships and developing the whole team.

"They should play with the same mindset and principles when we are in possession of the ball or when the other team is in possession."

Fernandes was an integral figure in propelling United to Champions League qualification last campaign as he netted 28 times for United in all competitions. 

That was the best return by a midfielder for a Premier League club in a single campaign, surpassing Frank Lampard's 27 for Chelsea in 2009-10, but he has failed to hit those lofty heights this term with five top-flight goals to his name so far.

Whether Fernandes comes back into the team for the visit of Wolves on January 3 remains unclear, but Rangnick is aware that man-management will be key to his success in Manchester.

He added: "This is always about man management, having a good relationship with the players. But also be aware that you're the one to take the decisions.

"Who is going to play, who will be substituted, who will be on the bench or possibly not even make it into the squad for the next game."

United spent heavily in the last transfer window, bringing in Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho, though that does not necessarily rule out further transfer activity in January.

Anthony Martial has also stated his desire to seek new pastures away from United, but Rangnick believes it is too soon to start thinking about potential signings and departures with an abundance of first-team players to choose from already.

"[It's] too early now," he responded when asked about transfer dealings in the new year. "The current squad is big enough, with a lot of competition in the squad.

"To speak about future players coming into the club doesn't make sense at this stage when we have to find out which player is in which position, the best possible solution for every game.

"Right now for me, it doesn't make sense to think about future players. My full focus is on the current squad and to find for each game the best possible formation and line-up."

Reigning champions Manchester City end the year as hot favourites to win the Premier League again, but how many of Pep Guardiola's players should make it into a team of the year?

Do any of the Manchester United players Gary Neville described as "whingebags" deserve a place in an elite XI? And is there a case to be made for any players from beyond the 'big six'?

The answers to those questions are: a) five, by our estimations; b) yes; and c) yes.

Using Opta data, Stats Perform selected a dream team for 2021, packed with standout performers from the calendar year.

Safe hands? It has to be Mendy

Chelsea's Edouard Mendy had a save percentage of 74.36, which put him fourth among goalkeepers with five or more Premier League appearances. Curiously, his Blues club-mate Kepa Arrizabalaga headed that list with an 81.82 per cent record, but he only played five Premier League games: the Spaniard's previous inconsistency and propensity to make expensive errors cost him a regular place.

Mendy has demonstrated reliability and Chelsea's upturn in form under Thomas Tuchel, highlighted by their Champions League triumph, owed a lot to the man at the back. He had 18 clean sheets in 38 Premier League games and in this team of the year he edges out the likes of Arsenal's former Sheffield United shot-stopper Aaron Ramsdale, and Wolves' outstanding Jose Sa (80.28 per cent save percentage in 18 games – a half-season wonder so far).

Risk-takers on the defensive flanks, no-nonsense in the middle

Top of the defenders' league for assists (13) and ball recoveries (308), Liverpool's Trent Alexander-Arnold remains a sensational presence at right-back. He is much closer to the bottom of the league when it comes to duel success (46.77 per cent), and being dribbled past by opposition players (34 incidences), but his strengths are such that Liverpool can put up with those figures. The playmaker at full-back might be prone to an occasional error, but his service from the flanks has often been a match-winning ingredient in the Reds' mix.

Similar can be said for Manchester City's Joao Cancelo, a first-class operator on either defensive flank. He has three goals and six assists in the league over the year and has created 39 chances from open play, putting him in the top five among defenders in the latter metric (Alexander-Arnold's 67 leads the way). Cancelo has a healthy tackle success rate of 66.27 per cent, but he has also been dribbled past 53 times by opponents, more than any other defender and has made three errors leading to shots (Harry Maguire tops this list, with six errors). Cancelo is imperfect, but also often quite brilliant.

In the centre of defence, Chelsea's Antonio Rudiger might be in his last season at Stamford Bridge, amid speculation linking him with Real Madrid and others. He has been largely formidable, developing a strong alliance with Thiago Silva. Only three defenders with more than 20 Premier League appearances across the year managed to top 60 per cent for duel success (Rudiger: 63.75) and 70 per cent for tackle success (Rudiger: 73.08) while being dribbled past no more than 10 times (Rudiger: 10). Surprisingly, one of those was Newcastle's Ciaran Clark. The others were Rudiger and Silva, and you could have either in a team of the year.

Ruben Dias has been the Rolls-Royce engine in Manchester City's defence: powerful and classy, surely built to last. His passing accuracy of 93.28 per cent has been beaten only by one defender in the league – team-mate Aymeric Laporte (93.91) – with Dias also managing three goals and two assists in 2021, his first full year in English football. City are no longer crying out for a Vincent Kompany replacement: Dias, 24, could be the cornerstone of their defence for many seasons to come.

Midfield marvels... from Manchester

Is Bruno Fernandes a maestro or a "whingebag"? Neville used the latter description after Manchester United's draw at Newcastle, but he would doubtless concur on the former too, given it has not been all shoulder shrugs and finger-pointing from the mercurial Portuguese this year. In 2020, Fernandes had 18 goals and 14 assists, alongside 60 open-play chances created. He has played more games this year (39, compared to 29 in 2021) and finished up with 13 goals, eight assists and 79 open-play chances created. His 21 goal involvements lead the way among midfielders, and even if those have dried up in recent weeks – he had just one goal and one assist in his final nine league games of the year – he had already done enough.

Across Manchester, Ilkay Gundogan was a revelation for City, particularly during a purple patch last season. He ends the year with 15 goals, the most of any midfielder, adding five assists from the 44 open-play chances he created, and had a princely passing accuracy in the opposition half of 90.09 per cent. Among Premier League players with more than 30 games, that accuracy was only beaten by Gundogan's City team-mates Bernardo Silva (90.23) and Rodri (90.74).

Of course Bernardo Silva makes the team too, a flagrant example of recency bias after the Portuguese's five goals in five league games from early November to early December. With his nine goals and seven assists across the Premier League year, and his determined dribbling (109 dribbling attempts - second only to Burnley's Dwight McNeil among midfielders), the ever-elegant Bernardo just edges out Manchester City team-mate and previously perennial all-star Kevin De Bruyne.

What a year it has been for Phil Foden, another City star to make this team. Granted, it would have been better had City won the Champions League final on his 21st birthday, but the young man from Stockport has continued his growth at Premier League level, bagging 12 goals and seven assists and another title. Those goals have come at an average of 0.53 per 90 minutes, and the assists at one every 0.31 per 90. He is top five in both per-90 aspects among midfielders, but is Foden still truly a midfielder? The twinkle-toed local lad has been deployed in the frontline frequently, looking at home wherever Pep Guardiola decides he should be slotted.

Standout Salah, remarkable Raphinha

Where would Leeds United be without Raphinha? Rumours of Bayern Munich interest surfaced in December, and his numbers tell us why the German giants might fancy the Brazilian. His 20 goal involvements (12 goals, eight assists) put him joint-fifth among Premier League forwards, with only Mohamed Salah (35), Michail Antonio (24), Harry Kane (23) and Son Heung-min (22) ahead of Raphinha. The former Rennes player attempted 194 dribbles (only Adama Traore, 252, and Allan Saint-Maximin, 238, tried more) and he also played far more passes into the final third than any other forward (198 – Leandro Trossard second on this list with 136). Raphinha got stuck in too, making 50 tackles (only Jordan Ayew, with 60, attempted more among forwards).

Mohamed Salah became the first player to score 20 or more goals in five consecutive seasons for Liverpool in all competitions since Ian Rush from 1981-82 to 1986-87 (six in a row). That is the remarkable level he has reached, and with his own long-term future still somewhat in doubt, Liverpool will be making every effort to retain the Egyptian. In the year when Cristiano Ronaldo returned to the Premier League, the Portuguese was resoundingly outshone by Liverpool's star forward. Salah had more touches in the opposition box than any other player in 2021 (383), and he made good use of those. He created 67 chances from open play, and the goals and assists hauls were both league-highs among forwards.

Chelsea and Paris Saint-Germain each have four nominees in the 23-man shortlist for the FIFA FIFPRO Men's World 11 for 2021.

Liverpool goalkeeper Alisson and full-back Trent Alexander-Arnold are also included, although there is no place for Mohamed Salah.

PSG's attacking trio of Lionel Messi, Neymar and Kylian Mbappe are among the forwards, as is Manchester United star Cristiano Ronaldo.

Veteran Dani Alves also won enough votes to make the list, even though the 38-year-old, who recently rejoined Barcelona, only played 16 times in domestic competition in Brazil this year.

Professional footballers across the world were asked to vote for the three players they considered to have the best seasons during the 2020-21 season among goalkeepers, defenders, midfielders and forwards.

FIFPRO said: "For the first time in 17 years, FIFPRO is updating the announcement about the most-voted players, reducing the shortlist from 55 to 23. This has been done to resemble a real-life 'squad' which, usually for international competitions, is the number of players involved. 

"The three goalkeepers, six defenders, six midfielders and six forwards with the most votes earned a place in the 23-men World 11 'squad'. To complete this elite selection, the two remaining outfield players with the most votes were added."

The keeper, three defenders, three midfielders and three forwards with the most votes will be chosen for the World 11, with the remaining spot assigned to the outfield player with the next highest number of votes.

The final 11 will be announced at The Best FIFA Football Awards ceremony on January 17.

 

FIFA FIFPRO MEN'S WORLD 11 23-PLAYER SHORTLIST:

Goalkeepers:
Alisson (Liverpool, Brazil)
Gianluigi Donnarumma (Milan/Paris Saint-Germain, Italy)
Edouard Mendy (Chelsea, Senegal)

Defenders:
David Alaba (Bayern Munich/Real Madrid, Austria)
Jordi Alba (Barcelona, Spain)
Trent Alexander-Arnold (Liverpool, England)
Dani Alves (Sao Paulo/Barcelona, Brazil)
Leonardo Bonucci (Juventus, Italy)
Ruben Dias (Manchester City, Portugal)

Midfielders:
Sergio Busquets (Barcelona, Spain)
Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City, Belgium)
Bruno Fernandes (Manchester United, Portugal)
Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona, The Netherlands)
Jorginho (Chelsea, Italy)
N'Golo Kante (Chelsea, France)

Forwards:
Karim Benzema (Real Madrid, France)
Cristiano Ronaldo (Juventus/Manchester United, Portugal)
Erling Haaland (Borussia Dortmund, Norway)
Robert Lewandowski (Bayern Munich, Poland)
Romelu Lukaku (Inter/Chelsea, Belgium)
Kylian Mbappe (Paris Saint-Germain, France)
Lionel Messi (Barcelona/Paris Saint-Germain, Argentina)
Neymar (Paris Saint-Germain, Brazil)

Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes both refused to dwell on Manchester United's come-from-behind win against Arsenal as the Red Devils look ahead to life under interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

With Rangnick watching in the stands, Ronaldo scored twice to lead United past Premier League rivals Arsenal 3-2 on Thursday before caretaker boss Michael Carrick announced his departure from Old Trafford.

Carrick – who was placed in temporary charge after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's sacking, overseeing wins against Villarreal and Arsenal, and a draw at Chelsea – revealed he would not be staying on and serving as a coach under Rangnick.

After helping to snap United's three-game drought in the Premier League, superstar Ronaldo quickly switched focus as Rangnick prepares to see the embattled giants through until the end of the season.

Ronaldo, who scored the 800th and 801st goals of his illustrious career, wrote via his social media pages: "Our minds are already set on the next game, there's no time to celebrate!

"Today's win was very important to get back on track, but there's still a long road to go until we reach our destination… Congrats to all my team-mates, great spirit tonight."

United – seventh in the standings and 12 points behind leaders Chelsea – scored three goals in a home Premier League game against Arsenal for the first time since February 2016, with Carrick completing all 90 minutes that day.

The Red Devils were forced to come from behind following Emile Smith Rowe's 13th-minute opener – Fernandes restoring parity a minute before half-time.

Fernandes made his 100th competitive appearance for United. Since his club debut in 2020, he has been directly involved in more goals in all competitions than any other player for Premier League sides (79 - 45 goals, 34 assists).

Ronaldo put United ahead seven minutes into the second half, only for Martin Odegaard to equalise two minutes later, though the Portuguese superstar sealed United's victory via a 70th-minute penalty.

"Every win is important for us at this moment," Portuguese star Fernandes told Amazon Prime post-match.

"We know that we have been through a lot of ups and downs, and it has been hard for us to come out of that.

"Today we got a great win, but we cannot stop here and be satisfied because we beat Arsenal. The next game is coming quick, so we have to put our heads on that straight away and be ready for that one."

On countryman and team-mate Ronaldo, Fernandes added: "What can you say about that? It's incredible.

"He's proving game by game, year by year, season by season, that he wants to keep being the best, he wants to be the best and that's what he did.

"He doesn't need anyone to motivate him, he knows how to do it and how to carry on scoring goals."

Before players were told of Carrick's decision to step down, Fernandes hailed the former United midfielder.

Carrick, winner of five Premier League titles and a Champions League crown among other honours during his 12 years as a player in Manchester, made 464 appearances for United between 2006 and 2018 before stepping into coaching.

"Michael can be a really good manager in the future if he gets the chance," said Fernandes. "He knows how to speak, he knows a lot about football.

"He was one of those great players that not a lot of people talk about but from what I know and what I have seen, he can be a top coach."

Manchester United have broken with modern tradition and made a footballing decision that everyone seems to think is a good one.

The appointment of Ralf Rangnick as interim manager until the end of the season was confirmed on Monday, a day after caretaker Michael Carrick managed a creditable 1-1 draw at Premier League leaders Chelsea.

While he hasn't been a coach for the best part of three years, Rangnick's legacy in the Bundesliga and his influence on some of Germany's finest minds makes him a shrewd appointment for United, not least because he will take up a two-year consultancy role after 2021-22.

This, then, is a decision taken by United with a view to long-term changes to their fortunes, not simply a quick fix to arrest poor results. Still, with more than half the season still to go, Rangnick could yet guide the Red Devils to some tangible on-pitch success over the coming months – provided that he gets to work quickly on some of their biggest problems.

Stats Perform looks at five things Rangnick must address as soon as possible...

 

Fix the defence

United conceded 21 goals in the first 12 games of the season; they have never previously let in more at the same stage in the competition's history. In November alone, they have faced 60 shots, the most of any side in the division.

That tells you something about the state of their defence.

Of course, Rangnick's gegenpressing system is likely to demand off-the-ball contributions from every player on the pitch (more on that shortly) but the rearguard is in need of some serious fine-tuning. In particular, captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw have seen their individual form fall off a cliff since they helped England to the final of Euro 2020; it was telling that a good defensive performance against Chelsea on Sunday came with both players sidelined.

Getting the best out of Shaw and Maguire, arresting Aaron Wan-Bissaka's decline and getting Raphael Varane fit and integrated into the side will be essential to Rangnick's aims.

Get Bruno firing again

So often United's star performer under Solskjaer, Bruno Fernandes is another who has endured a comparatively poor season.

He tallied his 50 direct goal involvement on his 58th appearance in October (30 goals, 20 assists), which is a tally only Andy Cole (43), Alan Shearer (54) and Eric Cantona (54) reached in fewer games, so it's not all bad. But the Portugal playmaker has scored just once in 19 appearances for club and country.

He looks a player in need of a lift and, so central is he to United's attack play, he could be Rangnick's first port of call at Carrington. Well, apart from...

Accommodate Ronaldo

Like a black hole devouring a gas cloud, all the noise surrounding United's performances seems to be drawn inexorably back to Cristiano Ronaldo.

It's a beguiling narrative: a five-time Ballon d'Or winner who has to start every game but who should not expect to start every game; a 36-year-old forward who no longer contributes enough to make up for any shortcomings, but one with six goals in five Champions League matches this season, two of them winners and one a last-gasp equaliser.

There are some writing off Ronaldo's chances of winning over a coach like Rangnick who demands hard graft from every member of his team, while others say the onus is on the incoming manager to construct a unit that brings the best out of the leading male international goalscorer in history. Time will tell what the future holds.

And just a note for the 'Ronaldo doesn't press' crowd: he made three more sprints and 21 more intensive runs against Chelsea than Jesse Lingard, who came on at the same time.

Tie down Pogba and tidy the squad

Some of Solskjaer's best work at United was putting together a strong squad, but that seemed to unravel in his final few months in charge.

Lingard returned rejuvenated from West Ham but, rather than cash in when there was a demand, Solskjaer kept the England international yet gave him just 63 minutes of league action. It's now likely he'll leave for nothing next June.

There were similarly strange decisions behind contract extensions for Eric Bailly and the seldom-seen Juan Mata, while Phil Jones is still at the club after two years of injury hell and Anthony Martial was retained despite falling way down the attacking pecking order. Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also appears unlikely now to dislodge David de Gea.

Then there is Paul Pogba, still yet to sign a new deal or announce plans to leave for free next year, whose agent wastes few opportunities to discuss potentially interested parties. The word is that Pogba is excited to work with Rangnick, but the France star is just one of several members of the United squad who needs clarity on their positions.

Give Donny a chance

It felt almost pre-ordained when Donny van de Beek scored the final goal of the Solskjaer era against Watford, having come on as a substitute to rapturous (and ironic) cheers from the visiting fans.

Van de Beek has spent most of his time at United being assured his chances would come, then left wondering when that would be. Having only started four league games in 14 months, the Netherlands international – who has lost his place in the national squad – would almost certainly have pushed to leave in January had Solskjaer stayed in the job.

Now, Van de Beek has the opportunity to prove himself to a new manager. Rangnick's methods might not be Cruyffian exactly, but they are certainly more closely aligned to the Ajax way than Solskjaer's focus on individual inspiration.

Bruno Fernandes has refused to single Ole Gunnar Solskjaer out for blame following Manchester United's humiliating 4-1 defeat against Watford on Saturday, insisting it is a collective failure.

Josh King, Ismaila Sarr, Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Bonaventure helped themselves to goals against the Red Devils who had Harry Maguire sent off after receiving a second yellow card.

The result means United have won just once in their last six Premier League games, losing four and conceding 12 goals in that run, with pressure intensifying on Solskjaer's position as manager. Indeed, a board meeting is rumoured to have taken place in the wake of the loss.

Fernandes however, instead directed the blame for the side's poor form at the team as a collective unit.

"It's everyone's fault," Fernandes said to beIN Sports after the game. "It's not the coach, it's not one player or two, it's everyone. Everyone has to take responsibility because everyone has to do better, everyone. Not one of us can say 'I'm doing well'."

Fernandes feels United only turned up for one half of the game and described the first half as "sloppy", while also highlighting the Red Devils' defensive issues.

"We [played like a wounded animal] but just for one half and that is not enough in these kinds of games in the Premier League," Fernandes continued. "It's not enough playing just for one half.

"Watford are a good team, they are aggressive, they have quality up front, and if you give them chances, you will concede goals. That has been a problem for us for many games and I think the attitude in the second half was there but in the first half, it was too sloppy from everyone.

"We didn't go on the front foot, we didn't tackle, we didn't win our duels and against these teams, you have to do that. You have to try to keep the same intensity as them and after that, show your quality, show why you play for Manchester United."

International football is officially over for another year. *Pauses for cheers or jeers*

With the November international break done with, we turn our attention back to domestic football, with a hectic period set to begin in the Premier League.

More fantasy points will be available over the next seven weeks or so than at any other period in the season, such is the jammed nature of the schedule, and there's no better time to get ahead of the curve.

Stats Perform has delved into the Opta data to pick out seven picks for this week, hopefully giving you the edge...

EDOUARD MENDY (Leicester City v Chelsea)

Leicester City may represent a tricky opponent for any team, particularly given their good options going forward, but if anyone can keep them at bay, it's Mendy.

Not only has the Senegal international conceded the joint-fewest goals (four, excluding own goals, minimum of three appearances) in the Premier League, he also leads the way with 3.4 goals prevented, according to expected goals on target data.

In terms of form goalkeepers this season, Aaron Ramsdale runs him close, but Mendy is the outstanding candidate.

JOAO CANCELO (Manchester City v Everton)

City's versatile Portuguese full-back enjoyed an exceptional 2020-21, but he seems to have stepped things up even further this term.

In 17 games in 2021-22 across all competitions, Cancelo has already reached seven goal involvements (two goals, five assists), just one fewer than his haul of eight in 43 outings last term.

He has been hugely influential at City, while it would also hardly be a surprise if they keep a clean sheet against an out-of-sorts Everton.

TRENT ALEXANDER-ARNOLD (Liverpool v Arsenal)

Liverpool's right-back became something of a scapegoat – fairly or not, that's a discussion for another day – in 2020-21. It is safe to say his critics are rather quieter at the moment.

Only Bruno Fernandes (37) can better Alexander-Arnold's 30 chances created in the Premier League this term, while no defender has more than his four assists.

A resurgent Arsenal could cause Liverpool issues, so a clean sheet is no guarantee, but there is no defender more likely to nab you an assist or two.

CONOR GALLAGHER (Burnley v Crystal Palace)

On-loan Chelsea youngster Gallagher has been a revelation for Palace this season, with his all-action style proving a great addition to Patrick Vieira's team.

He has also provided plenty of quality in the final third, having a hand in a team-high six goals (four goals, two assists).

Gallagher has already beaten his combined tally (two goals, two assists) from 2020-21 when he was on loan at West Brom, and he won his first England cap against San Marino earlier this week.

BRUNO FERNANDES (Watford v Manchester United)

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have seemingly hobbled from 'crisis' to 'crisis' this season, and while Fernandes arguably has not been as impressive as last season, he is still essential to the Red Devils.

He leads the way with the most chances created (37) in the league this term, and that fits into his wider excellence ever since joining United, a period that has seen him supply the most assists (22) and craft the most goal-scoring opportunities (162) of anyone in the competition.

Additionally, only Mohamed Salah (55) has been involved in more goals than Fernandes (52) in the same period. Regardless of perceptions of his form, the Portugal star is a must-have, particularly given United will fancy their chances of bouncing back at Vicarage Road.

GABRIEL JESUS (Manchester City v Everton)

While he may not be playing in the striker role many might have expected before the season started, instead featuring largely as a right-sided winger, Jesus has made a strong start to 2021-22.

With the South American World Cup qualifiers not extended to a triple-header this month, Jesus is also less of a selection risk than he was after the international breaks in September and October.

But above all, he loves playing Everton. In eight Premier League games against them, Jesus has scored eight times, or roughly one every 69 minutes, and he will be aiming to give the Toffees plenty to chew on yet again this weekend.

SON HEUNG-MIN (Tottenham v Leeds United)

Among the players Antonio Conte will be hoping to get more out of after a slow start to the season, Son is surely near the top of the list.

Since the start of last season, no player has outperformed their expected goals (xG) tally by a greater margin than the South Korean (8.2), with 21 goals from 12.8 xG.

Obviously that can suggest a degree of unsustainable fortune on Son's part, but we all know he is an exceptional player capable of the extraordinary. Leeds are a side who let other teams play, and that might be just what the doctor ordered for Son and Spurs.

Bruno Fernandes says every Manchester United player must "look in the mirror" and accept blame for the club's poor run of form.

United were outclassed on home soil by one of their fiercest rivals for the second game running on Saturday as they fell to a 2-0 loss against Manchester City.

While City did not rack up the five unanswered goals managed by Liverpool at Old Trafford two weeks ago, the manner of the loss was just as chastening for the Red Devils. 

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side had just four touches in the opposition box – their fewest in a league game since 2008-09 when Opta first began recording such data.

Those four touches were also the fewest by a home team in a Premier League game since Fulham against Arsenal in September 2020.

A fourth defeat in six Premier League outings heaps yet more pressure on Solskjaer, who is one month short of celebrating three years in charge at Old Trafford.

Fernandes defended Solskjaer ahead of Saturday's game but understands that supporters are growing tired of the same excuses after this latest setback.

"Obviously everyone is frustrated about the result, about the performance too," the Portugal international said.

"We know we can do much better and we know this is not enough for players who are representing this big club. We have to look in the mirror. I'm saying again the same things probably from the last interview, but that's it.

"We have to look at ourselves, everyone at his home, understand what we can do better to help the team. We just have to apologise to the fans and that's it, because it was not good enough from us.

"They created a great atmosphere. They pushed us until the end, they tried to give that energy to us but from us, it was not enough."

United have lost eight home games in all competitions in 2021 – their most in a calendar year since 1989 – and are nine points off top spot in the Premier League after 11 games.

Eric Bailly scored a calamitous own goal to give City the lead in that latest of those defeats, before Bernardo Silva profited from some poor defending and questionable goalkeeping from David de Gea to poke in a second.

Now without a clean sheet at home in 14 matches in all competitions – their worse run since in 62 years – Fernandes admits United are making it "too easy" for opponents.

"It's always a bad time to concede a goal," Fernandes said. "The problem is the way we concede goals. It's too easy. As I said many, many times, if not for David, the result could be much more higher and worse for us.

"We have to protect better, David, because he is protecting us a lot and we have to help him because he cannot make every game eight, nine saves and then still concede goals."

City had 67.4 per cent possession and managed 16 attempts to United's five, while the 753 passes they completed was the most of any team in a league game against the Red Devils since 2003-04.

Fernandes told MUTV: "City were much better than us. They go around the pitch, they touched the ball many times, they made us run.

"It's hard to play against them. They are good and we knew that. Obviously when they go up with the result, it's even worse. They played much better than us and that's it."

The international break comes as welcome respite to those connected to United, who return to action after the international break at Watford.

"Yeah, it will be long but now it's time for everyone to focus on the national team who goes on the national team. The ones who stay here try to work hard, recover well and be ready for the games that are coming."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves credit for making "big improvements" at Manchester United as he approaches his three-year anniversary in charge, says Bruno Fernandes.

United manager Solskjaer remains under intense pressure ahead of Saturday's Premier League derby with Manchester City following an underwhelming start to his third full season in charge.

The Red Devils have won just half of their opening 10 Premier League matches, a run that includes a record 5-0 home loss to fierce rivals Liverpool in their most recent match at Old Trafford.

A 2-2 draw with Atalanta in the Champions League in midweek has scarcely lifted the pressure off Solskjaer, who has yet to win any silverware since his appointment in December 2018 on an initial caretaker basis.

But Fernandes – brought to United in January 2020 – insists the players are just as much to blame as their manager for results.

"He brought me to the club, he gave me the chance to play in this amazing club, he made my dream come true," Fernandes told Sky Sports. "He is a great person and everyone knows the human part of him.

"It's normal people get upset because the results don't come, but it's too easy to blame only the coach. We go on the pitch, we should do better.

"We could say the system is not good enough, but we played 4-2-3-1 for three years. We got to some finals, which we didn't win, I understand that, but we got to second place last season and no one was expecting us to have as good a season as we did.

"It was not as good as we want, but it was a good season overall after what everyone was thinking.

"If we didn't drop those points in January, February, we could have been much closer to City. There has been big improvements in the team, big improvement in the club since he arrived, and I think he deserves credit.

"I think he's capable to do more and us as a team are capable to do more. That doesn't depend only on the coach. We have to try to help him because he is trying to help us."

United have 17 points from their opening 10 league games and are eight points adrift of leaders Chelsea. That compares to 19 points at the same stage last season when going on to finish third and 13 after 10 games in 2019-20 when finishing sixth.

"It's not what we want, of course, and we dropped points against Everton, Aston Villa, and Liverpool at home," Fernandes said.

"Last season it was a problem at home, we started the season really well at home to Leeds and Newcastle and in the Champions League too. But we're still dropping points at home and we know that. It's not only the coach's fault."

 

Fernandes was directly involved in 46 goals in all competitions last season – 13 more than next-best Marcus Rashford – and again leads the way among United players this term with his four goals and seven assists.

The most recent of the Portugal international's four goals this term arrived against Newcastle United on September 11, though, and there is a perception that his importance to United is dwindling now that Cristiano Ronaldo is back at the club.

However, Fernandes is creating more chances per 90 minutes this season compared to last season (3.94 to 2.69) and more big chances (0.74 to 0.65), all while playing in a more reserved midfield role.

"The way we played in the last two games, I've played a little deeper,, but it's because we changed system and you have to adapt," Fernandes said. "Everyone was adapting themselves. We have to do what is better for the team.

"I can still do my game wherever I play. I know people are upset because the numbers are going a little bit low – goals are going low, but assists are coming up.

"The importance for people of scoring goals is always better than doing assists or a great game. Last season everyone was like, 'he's scored a lot of goals but he also scores a lot of penalties and he doesn't perform'.

"Now I perform and give a lot of assists and people say 'he's not scoring goals'. There will always be a problem. I'm never happy with myself. I want always to improve and do better."

He added: "The teams know me better and I don't get the space I got in the beginning because I was someone coming from Portugal and most players didn't know who Bruno is.

"Now the space is a little bit short for me, the time is a little bit short, and I have to improve on that to be quick on shooting and passing and everything to make my game work."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer urged his critics to keep targeting him because he is fuelled by the flak that has come his way since Manchester United's 5-0 defeat to Liverpool.

A Mohamed Salah hat-trick inspired Jurgen Klopp's men to their biggest ever winning margin at Old Trafford on October 24, with United losing by at least five goals without scoring at home for the first time since 1955.

It was a humiliating day for United, and Solskjaer looked as though he was going to pay the price, but Alex Ferguson reportedly played a major role in buying the Norwegian time to turn things around following a four-game winless run in the league.

United followed that defeat up with a comprehensive win at Tottenham on Saturday, Solskjaer's decisions to switch to a back three and deploy a strike partnership of Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo paying dividends – they kept a clean sheet and the two forwards each scored a goal.

That defeat ended up costing Spurs boss Nuno Espirito Santo his job as it eased the heat slightly on Solskjaer, but with a Champions League trip to Atalanta to be followed by the Manchester derby, he is only another disappointing result away from being under intense pressure again.

But he says the criticism that comes with such pressure is what keeps him on his toes.

"Criticism can make you doubt yourself or you can stand up for yourself," he told reporters ahead of the clash with Atalanta.

"I've always enjoyed criticism, keep it coming. Journalists, pundits – we've all got different jobs and it's their job to give their opinion. I am not here to fight with them, I don't need a spat with them."

Despite the excellent response against Tottenham, Solskjaer is not getting carried away about United's situation.

"The next one is the one that matters and we've been looking, working together for consistency and when we get that we'll get consistent results. One swallow doesn't make a summer.

"We will keep focusing on what we did well. [The schedule] is relentless. It is a chance tomorrow to prove we can go again."

Bruno Fernandes, sat alongside Solskjaer, was asked about the slightly different role he was asked to play on Saturday, as he featured behind two strikers rather than a lone frontman who was flanked by two wingers.

The Portugal international had a fine performance individually, playing three key passes – including a wonderful assist for Ronaldo's stunning volley – and also had a major role in Cavani's well-worked goal as he robbed Oliver Skipp in the build-up.

But as long as he is able to supply the frontline, he is not bothered who Solskjaer picks in attack.

"I think, honestly, we have such good quality, not just them [Cavani and Ronaldo]," he said. "They scored so take a big part of the result, but honestly I think the quality we have makes it easy to play behind any striker and serve them. All of them can score goals. They're all different but can all score goals many times and from any place on the pitch.

"We have many talents in this team – Edi, Cristiano, Anthony [Martial], Marcus [Rashford], Jadon [Sancho] – it doesn't matter who plays. I know I'm there to try to serve them and make them happy."

United – who had to come back from 2-0 down to beat Atalanta in their last Champions League outing – are aiming to avoid losing four consecutive away games in Europe's elite competition or its predecessor the European Cup.

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