Forget Ilkay Gundogan, Man Utd's Bruno Fernandes is the real Player of the Year - The Warm-Up
Bruno Fernandes showed once again that he is an exceptional player - and in fact the Player of the Year-elect - with a dominant performance in Manchester United's 4-0 win against Real Sociedad. It wasn't as happy a night for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, however, as Arsena failed to beat Benfica despite creating a hatful of chances.
Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United celebrates after scoring to give the side a 2-0 lead during the UEFA Europa League Round of 32 match between Real Sociedad and Manchester United at Allianz Stadium
Last night, a 10-ft long, six-wheeled vehicle completed a 206 million-mile journey to Mars, as NASA’s Perseverance rover landed successfully near the Jezero crater, where it will start to undertake its mission to find traces of ancient lifeforms on the red, rocky planet. If it does, there’s a good chance it will be a distant descendent of Bruno Fernandes.
The Manchester United playmaker is currently playing football from another planet. Two more goals in the 4-0 Europa League win away at Real Sociedad (actually at Juventus stadium) took Fernandes to 21 for the season already, with six in seven matches in Europe. That’s now 33 in 58 games for Manchester United since his move to Old Trafford just over a year ago. A galactically good return. Oh, and he’s got 11 assists too.
He’s at least the most impressive and influential Manchester United player since Robin van Persie inspired them to the title in Fergie’s last season, and potentially beyond that, all the way back to Cristiano Ronaldo’s 42-goal season in 2007-08. Comparisons are even being drawn with Eric Cantona.
There’s just something so deliciously visceral about Fernandes. There are few superfluous frills, no indulgent passing displays. He basically just wants his team to score as many goals as possible and do it is as quickly and directly as possible. Which sounds obvious, but isn’t always.
As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said last night: “Bruno always wants to do the next thing correctly. He wants to do the next thing at the best of his ability and that is a very good attribute and quality to have. You never rest on your laurels. If he scores two, he wants three, if he gets an assist, he wants another one. He drives everyone on, of course, sometimes he drives too much and wants to do too much.”
A consensus appears to have developed in some areas that Ilkay Gundogan is the PFA Player of the Year elect, that a spate of goals from the Manchester City playmaker have finally brought him the recognition that his ability deserves.
To which The Warm-Up would reply: nah, not for me.
There’s only one player in England at the moment who has the magic mix of ability, charisma and will to win that defines a true player of the year. The only reason Manchester United got anywhere near to constructing a title challenge was the brilliance of their number 18 – and that likely lack of a title is really the only thinking counting against Fernandes right now.
After the deluge, comes the drought. Having scored a hat-trick in the Premier League at the weekend, Pierre-Emerick Aubaeyang was on a one-man mission to regress to the mean as he wasted a bundle of chances in Arsenal’s 1-1 draw away at Benfica (actually in Rome).
His failure to poke the ball home in the first half from close range was particularly astonishing and, coupled with Emile Smith Rowe’s slightly dubious handball which gifted Benfica a penalty, means Arsenal have a little work to do when they welcome Benfica for the home leg (actually in Greece).
Aubameyang was so bad he even got hooked by Mikel Arteta, who was a little frustrated after the match. “He was on the end of the biggest chances we had tonight,” he said. “He was a real threat and we played against this opponent with a high line they propose all the time, and he was unlucky of course not to score two or three tonight, because in normal circumstances that would be the case.”
That’s what you can get with Aubameyang, though. His performance ceiling is higher than any other Arsenal player but he does miss a load of good chances too. In fact, there is another player emerging as Arsenal’s most consistent and influential player. Bukayo Saka, 19, is now starting to produce every week and rarely has a bad game, scoring a useful away goal (not really an away goal, the game was in Rome) last night.
Aubameyang will still win many games for Arsenal – but let’s get this right, Saka might now be their most important player.
Best of the rest
The Europa League has already garnered more attention here than it deserves but a quick congratulations to Tottenham for their 4-1 away victory (actually played in Budapest) over Austria’s finest slug repellent manufacturers, RZ Pellets (or Wolfsberger, if you want to use their pre-sponsorship name), a match chiefly notable for Gareth Bale actually playing well, potentially signalling an end to his social media cold war with Jose Mourinho.
Realistically what did Bale think he would have to gain taking the battle to Instagram, the only platform on which Jose comes across as charming human being?
Meanwhile, Rangers plundered four away goals in a 4-3 win over Antwerp (okay, this one was actually in Antwerp) to continue their excellent campaign on all fronts.
IN OTHER NEWS
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Happy birthday Marta, legendary Brazilian forward. To mark her 35th birthday, here’s one of her most memorable goals, scored against China at the 2007 World Cup.
Friday Night Football sees Wolves take on Leeds at 8pm. But if you are looking for a sporting fix across the day, we have you covered on Eurosport.