Three months ago, Manchester United were humiliated in their first derby by Erik ten Hag. This time it was different.
In that 6-3 loss, United’s tepid pressure made it easier for them to play, and Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City weren’t the kind to need an invitation. Since then, United’s organization off the ball has been improving, from their defensive line to pressing.
He appeared at Old Trafford when the two teams met again. The one-marking of Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva by Fred and Casemiro hampered City’s game as United’s tight attacking line pressed City’s central defence, with Christian Eriksen charging towards Rodri.
That meant it was City players Joao Cancelo and Kyle Walker who were free but City couldn’t get to them fast enough to cause United trouble in the first half. That changed in the second half and City managed to push through on the right as De Bruyne’s pass resulted in a Jack Grealish header.
However, if there is one person who knows where United’s threat will come from, it is Guardiola.
“When you attack a little bit faster than you need to attack, they attack you a lot, a lot faster,” he said after his side recorded an impressive win at Old Trafford last season. “In transitions, they are much better.”
Analysis of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester derby: What he said and what he meant
His words were prophetic on Saturday as two quick attacks after United regained control gave them a lead they would not relinquish and ensured the title race took another turn.
Pivotal to those goals was Bruno Fernandes, scoring the equalizer (not without some controversy) before starting the move that eventually brought the winner.
Besides professional strikers, Fernandez’s efforts in turnovers are often forgotten. For all his creativity in his natural possession sequence, the Portuguese is still a threat on turnovers. His awareness in these situations, combined with his passing and directness in attacking space, makes him invaluable at this point in the game.
When United get the ball back again, Fernandes knows which space to attack. In the win over Fulham, United’s first goal came from an attacking transfer after Casemiro won the ball in midfield. With the ball reaching Anthony Martial, Fernandes runs up front providing a passing option, with Marcus Rashford moving inside the field.
Seeing Rashford move inside and drag Issa Diop with him, Fernandez continues his run to attack space.
Then it was found by Martial…
… And the Portuguese’s shot deflected away from Diop, and fell in front of Eriksen into an empty net. The Dane scores, but it is important to note Fernandes’ decision on which space to attack in transition. Knowing that Diop will go inside with Rashford, Fernandes attacks the empty space outside the Fulham defender.
This was also the case in his own net against Tottenham. Again, it’s a transfer and Anthony has the ball on the right. However, Fernandez does not look at the ball. He looks up front to check for any space to attack. Rashford’s move drags Eric Dier with him…
… And Fred’s movement poses a question for Christian Romero as Matt Doherty still trails back with Jadon Sancho near the Spurs right-back. Fernandez sees the gap, and moves in that direction as he calls for a pass.
Anthony’s pass is a bit heavy, allowing Romero to intercept. But United recovered the ball and Fernandez put it in the net.
Fernandes’ intelligence in regards to attacking space makes him a good option when United break through quickly in attack, and that was essential against City. Despite not being in transition, United’s quick attack after they got the ball back caught Guardiola’s side by surprise, and led to an equaliser.
In the build-up to the goal, Fernandez is in the center circle as Aaron Wan-Bissaka finds Casemiro’s path on the right.
Before Casemiro gets control of the ball, Fernandez looks in front of him to see where the spaces are.
He noticed that the path of Rashford moves Manuel Akanji from his position, and accordingly begins his run in the space vacated by the City defender …
… As he did so, he glanced over his left shoulder to get an idea of Walker’s location.
Casemiro’s pass here is most likely intended for Rashford, who is in an offside position, but Fernandez’s advance provides a secondary option…
…and he scores to put United back in the game.
The other aspect of Fernandez’s profile that makes him effective in turnovers, is his vision and passing. When United wins the ball, he immediately tries to free himself or ask for the ball if he is in space.
In this example against Nottingham Forest, Fernandes (in yellow) directs Rashford (in red) to attack the space behind Forest right-back, Serge Aurier, as United start the transition.
This provides space for Fernandes to move into as Tyrell Malacia plays the pass to the United midfielder…
… It also offers a direct outlet at Rashford. Fernandes then plays the ball over the Forest defense and into Rashford’s path. From this transfer, United scored their second goal of the match as Rashford set up Martial for a shot from the edge of the box.
In another transition-related goal, Fernandez’s scan gives him an advantage once he’s on the flight. As Eriksen receives a pass from Diogo Dalot, Fernandes looks over his right shoulder and notices Rashford preparing to charge forward.
So, when Eriksen plays the pass to Fernandes…
… He already knows where his next pass will be. The United midfielder cuts through the Arsenal defense with a through ball that puts Rashford in a one-on-one situation, and the England striker makes it 2-1.
This can be clearly seen in the derby as well. Fernandez’s transfer passes were crucial to United’s attack and eventually brought the winner.
In this example in the first half, Fernandes was looking over his shoulder for information on the position of Martial and Rashford as United recovered the ball inside the penalty area.
This prior knowledge of the whereabouts of his attackers meant that once the ball reached Fernandes…
… he only took two touches before finding Martial running behind the City defence.
This attack does not lead to a serious chance, but a similar attack later in the first half could have put United ahead. Here, Casemiro starts the United transfer by winning the ball back in midfield. As the Brazilian plays the ball in Fernandez, Rashford starts his career in space …
…and the Portuguese only takes two touches to find it.
Rashford then rounded Ederson, only for Akanji to stop his shot from entering.
In the end, it was Fernandes’ pass on the transfer that sealed United’s game.
After Ten Hag won the ball, Alejandro Garnacho sprinted forward into the space behind Walker as Fernandez cleared the other side of the field. The Portuguese is already aware of Garnacho’s direction of play when United got the ball back. Fred then controls the loose ball…
… before playing in Fernandez’s way while Garnacho continues to run down the left flank.
Since Fernandez knows the positioning of Anthony and Garnacho, he plays a one-touch pass to the Argentine who later assists the winner for Rashford.
Fernandes’ decision-making on transfers is central to United’s threat at this stage of play, and was essential in the Derby Day win. If he keeps in good shape, who knows where he could take United this season?
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