Bruno Fernandes joined Manchester United in January 2020 for £67.7million. The club were struggling with creativity under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and needed some inspiration.
Fernandes had a relatively quiet debut against Wolves but went on to take the Premier League by storm – offering the club the spark they were looking for.
He captured the attention of the Old Trafford faithful and became a household name in the English-top flight as a result of his impressive performances on the pitch.
However, Fernandes has declined in recent years and many believe Cristiano Ronaldo’s return was that catalyst – claiming the 28-year-old is struggling to thrive alongside his international team-mate.
Bruno Fernandes has declined over the years after joining Manchester United in 2020
Many people believe his decline is down to the return of his team-mate Cristiano Ronaldo
Fernandes has tried to dismiss claims that Ronaldo’s arrival has had something to do with his disappointing form. The 28-year-old told The Athletic: ‘Most of my assists last season were for him, so I don’t think (it is fair).
‘I just had a poor season in terms of my own numbers. I don’t think it is about Cristiano or myself. Before he came, I was also taking the penalties, but I had two chances to take the penalties last season and I missed both. So I cannot blame Cristiano for taking penalties, especially when he scores them.
‘When I missed against Arsenal in April, it was him who gave me the ball and said: “Go yourself and score”. I missed but I felt that he trusted me to be the one to step up and score in the big moment. So I don’t think it is because of Cristiano, it is because I didn’t do the best in myself in some moments to get goals or assists.’
So, what are the reasons for his decline over the years? Sportsmail takes a look and identifies the contributing factors.
Fernandes provided United with the spark they needed under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left)
Contributing less goals and assists
Fernandes provided 29 goals and 19 assists during his first 53 Premier League appearances after joining from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020.
He quickly established himself as one of United’s star players and fans couldn’t help but get excited. His wonderfully taken assist against City and his goals against Tottenham, Everton and Leicester added to the buzz.
He continued to thrive at United – ranking second in the Premier League for goal involvements during the 2020-2021 season (30). He sat just behind Harry Kane (37) in that department.
The Portugal international also created the most chances in the English top-flight during the 2020-21 campaign – recording a total of 95 big opportunities.
However, he struggled to settle under the club’s interim manager Ralf Rangnick (left)
However, Fernandes began to decline soon after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was sacked as the Manchester United manager. He then struggled to settle under interim boss Ralf Rangnick.
Rangnick’s arrival as interim manager did the Portugal international no favours. The German manager preferred a 4-2-2-2 formation – which denied Fernandes the chance to play in the No 10 role he prefers.
Fernandes was visibly irritated with Rangnick’s formation and cut a frustrated figure during United’s game with Newcastle, with his body language criticised by former United defender Gary Neville.
As a result, Fernandes was left out of United’s starting XI for games against Wolves – marking the first time he was dropped from team since arriving at Old Trafford in 2020.
Fans and pundits question whether Ronaldo is preventing Fernandes from playing his best
Ronaldo has officially taken over penalty duties from Fernandes at Manchester United
Fernandes worked his way back into the squad after Rangnick took Carlos Carvalhal’s advice by playing him as a box-to-box midfielder.
However, the return of Cristiano Ronaldo appears to have had an impact on Fernandes’ position as talisman, with the latter conceding penalty duties to his Portuguese compatriot.
Bruno’s free-playing role was curbed by the need to accommodate Ronaldo – who returned to the club after signing from Juventus in August 2021.
Ronaldo’s involvement in the team seems to have prevented Fernandes from scoring goals, registering assists and making progressive passes.
Ronaldo and Fernandes have struggled to link-up domestically and internationally
Given they are international team-mates, they should be able to link-up well. However, that has not been the case.
While trying to qualify for the European Championship with Portugal, the pair managed to score 12 out of their team’s 22 goals. Ronaldo found the back of the net 11 times while Fernandes only scored once.
Additionally, Ronaldo and Fernandes failed to combine for single goal during the qualifying stage. Plus, even more alarmingly, Fernandes was never on the pitch when Ronaldo scored.
Shooting accuracy has dropped
Given Fernandes is failing to score goals, it comes as no surprise that his shooting accuracy has dropped over the last couple of seasons.
During the 2019-20 campaign, Fernandes was getting 41 per cent of his shots on target.
That drastically dropped during the 2021-22 campaign. He only managed to 33 per cent of his shots on target during his 36 Premier League appearances.
Fernandes has managed to improve his accuracy during the 2022-23 campaign – registering 40 per cent of his shots on target – but that is still lower (just) than when he first joined the club.
Fernandes has been struggling with his shooting accuracy over the last season and a half
Becoming less disciplined
Fernandes is letting his frustrations get the better of him at Manchester United. He is picking up more yellow cards than ever before – having been booked a total of four times in the Premier League so far this season.
Should Fernandes continue the way he is going, he could pick up a total of 16 yellow cards during the 2022-23 Premier League campaign. That would top last year’s tally by six.
When Fernandes was thriving at United – when he first arrived from Sporting – he only picked up six cards in 37 top-flight appearances. Whereas now, he is also already on four and has only played nine games.
Fernandes is letting his frustrations get the better of him and is picking up more yellow cards
Ronaldo must prevent giving away silly fouls as it’s impacting his and the team’s performance
Fernandes must control his frustrations to return to his best form. Additionally, he must control his emotions for the good of the team as some pundits believe his negativity is rubbing off on his United’s team-mates.
Former footballer Alan Hutton called out Fernandes earling this year for his attitude. He said it was impacting the other players in the squad.
Hutton said: ‘Obviously we’re not privy to what’s going on in the dressing room, but there is a lot of noise around Manchester United at the moment.
The 28-year-old Portugal international has also been criticised for his body language
‘It’s not good. I’m hearing about things behind the scenes and that the dressing room isn’t happy. The biggest thing for me, from the outside looking in, is the body language of some of the players.
‘You can be going through a slump, which is fine, but you’re still tackling, you’re still running about the pitch. Bruno Fernandes for one, a fantastic player, been excellent since he’s come to the club.
‘He’s throwing his hands up in the air, blaming other people. This is the guy that these youngsters would look towards to really help them moving forward.’