Erik ten Hag might have to drop one of Manchester United’s untouchables, who is fans favorite
Manchester United require a strong response after succumbing to Manchester City 6-3 at the weekend.
A huge defeat necessitates a big response, and there aren’t many larger defeats than being humiliated by your neighbors.
While surrendering six goals to Manchester City is no longer as shocking or significant as it was over a decade ago, Manchester United simply cannot afford such a defeat. Only a resurgent Antony Martial raring to score and a Blues backline that had gone silent saved them on Sunday, with a 6-3 defeat an exceedingly flattering scoreline for the visitors.
Erik ten Hag has had to swiftly adjust to the sour taste of disgrace as United manager, but the last time his team went in at half-time 4-0 down – just a few weeks ago and in even more stunning fashion at Brentford – it had its rewards in the aftermath. The humiliation made it evident that more was needed in the transfer window, thus Antony and Casemiro were brought in. It also made several things clear to the manager: that he can’t play his ideal style of play with the players he has at his disposal, and which players needed to be replaced.
The Dutchman made the appropriate adjustments. A realistic strategy was employed as Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Maguire, and Luke Shaw came off the bench, and it immediately made a huge difference. The defeat was followed by a courageous triumph over Liverpool, which launched a four-game winning streak, culminating in being the first team this season to grab three points against Arsenal.
The strong reaction instilled such optimism that it appeared as if United had a chance against City even before the game began. Of course, that didn’t happen, but Ten Hag now has another chance to elicit a similar good response.
Which raises the question of who will be on the chopping block this time. The most obvious candidate is Scott McTominay, whose fine form came to an end at the Etihad as it was once again demonstrated that he lacks the technical ability to push United to the next level. The difference is clear with Casemiro present and waiting. With Martial’s return, there is now significant rivalry for positions in the front three, and Jadon Sancho may face criticism for another ineffective performance. Tyrell Malacia may possibly be released following his terrible performance.
Bruno Fernandes is one player who has never been dropped from the team since his arrival under three different managers. It’s past time for him to do so, and he should be the next to go. The Portuguese may have arrived in Manchester like a house on fire, but he hasn’t been at his best in almost two years and hasn’t been any better than other players who have lost their spots in that time.
To be fair, he has been resembling that form this season, and he was particularly impressive against the Gunners. His potential to be a game-changer at critical moments and create magic out of thin air has also been a solid reason to keep him on the bench. But those times are becoming increasingly uncommon, and the possibility of something good cannot compensate for the ordinary mediocrity.
Fernandes was at his moany worst against City. Getting a ridiculous booking for fighting with the referee when the game was over, blaming others and accepting minimal responsibility. This is the type of performance that justifies a drop.
Ten Hag would be breaking the mold if he did so. Fernandes has played in 94 Premier League games since signing in January 2020 and has only been named to the bench three times. He came on as a substitute in each of those games and has only missed a game due to injury or suspension. His level of performance during at least half of that period has not warranted such an absolute certainty of a starting spot. He’s been impenetrable.
It’s time for him to confront the repercussions of his poor performance and see if there’s another route. United frequently lose control due to Fernandes’ proclivity to look for the Hollywood pass or shoot from distance. If they bring in someone who is more careful on the ball, they may be able to establish more attacking patterns.
Ten Hag would also be sending an even bigger message by leaving Ronaldo out. Nobody is secure. Nobody’s position is fixed. If you do not perform well enough, you will be dropped from the team. The addition of Alex Telles provided further motivation for Luke Shaw, who had one of his best seasons, while Dean Henderson’s return from Sheffield United saw David de Gea roar back to form.
Fernandes has never had to worry about his position on the team, which has resulted in a drop in his performance. It’s past time to fix that.