It would be reasonable to say that Manchester United have had a very patchy record in the transfer market in recent times, with many of their big money signings proving unable to settle or perform at their very best level for the club.
However, there is no question that Bruno Fernandes has been an incredibly successful acquisition since he joined the club for £47 million (plus add-ons) from Sporting Lisbon last winter.
Since he made his debut in the Premier League, the Portuguese international has assisted 14 goals, the most of any player in the division.
Fernandes may have been fortunate to assist seven goals from chances valued at 2.5 expected assists by Statsbomb last season, but with 5.9 xA in 2020/21 he is second only to Jack Grealish in the top flight of English football (per FBRef).
United have won 11 and drawn two of the 13 league matches in which the 26-year-old has set up a goal too, so it’s clear that when he is on form they tend to do well. Fernandes also has 19 Premier League goals to his name, though as nine of them have come from the penalty spot, his record there isn’t as impressive as it initially seems.
Nonetheless, United’s number 18 will clearly be the man Liverpool will need to pay most attention to when their fierce rivals visit Anfield on Sunday.
He has been responsible for 31 per cent of their creativity in the league this season (in terms of expected assists) when Anthony Martial is next in line on just nine per cent.
For context, Liverpool’s top quintet have all contributed between 10 and 15 per cent of the side’s total, with Andy Robertson leading the way. It would be too simplistic to say ‘stop Fernandes and you stop United’ when they have so many talented players, but clearly so much of what they have done well this season has gone through him.
The beneficiary in chief of Bruno’s talent has been Marcus Rashford. Four of Fernandes’ seven assists in the league have been for the England international (and scourge of the government), with the recent late winner against Wolverhampton Wanderers the most important.
And they’ve been linking up well irrespective of the goals. Three times in United’s last five matches Fernandes has played more passes to Rashford than to any other player. The former Sporting man rarely plays the ball backwards and is always looking to make things happen.
Fifteen of the 53 chances Fernandes has created in the league this season (28 per cent of his total) have been for Rashford, so Liverpool’s defenders and defensive midfielders will need to close that particular passing lane whenever they can.
Not that they should put all of their focus on Fernandes’ connection with Rashford, as the United midfielder currently leads the Premier League for through balls and passes into the penalty area (per FBRef) in 2020/21.
Perhaps more surprising is the fact that he is sixth in England’s top division for pressuring opponents on the ball too, though United’s slightly possession-averse and heavily counter attacking style obviously plays into this.
Get all the latest Liverpool injury and team news as Klopp faces selection dilemma, plus breaking news and analysis of what’s next for the Reds.
You’ll also get the latest transfer talk and analysis straight to your inbox every day with our FREE email newsletter.
It could actually work to Liverpool’s advantage too, as they are certain to have far more of the ball than the visitors will on Sunday. If Fernandes is chasing around trying to win it back then he may be less able to influence proceedings once his side do hold possession.
It can’t be a complete coincidence that many of the games when he has recorded the most pressures this term have seen him create very little.
And while his record is impressive overall this season, United’s star man hasn’t offered too much in their most important matches. Across their four league games against other members of the established big six in 2020/21, Fernandes has accumulated just 0.2 expected assists (per FBRef).
Again, that will be partly down to United’s safety first approach in many of those games, but If Liverpool can nullify the Portuguese international on Sunday then they can go a long way to getting a massive win which would reignite their title defence.