When Bruno Fernandes arrived at Manchester United on January 30th, 2020, questions were asked about whether he would hit the ground running in the Premier League. Since then, the Portuguese international has offered an emphatic response both on and off the pitch, with many comparing his impact to Eric Cantona’s during the 1990s. After picking up his third Player of the Month award in November 2020, the former Sporting Lisbon midfielder stated that United “have the chance” to win the Premier League in 2020/21. So, like The King, can Fernandes fire the Red Devils to the title?
Spearheading an Unexpected Title Charge
At the start of the ongoing campaign, few expected that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side would be in a fiercely contested title race. However, at the midway point in the season, ending their eight-year wait for the top-flight crown is no longer a dream, but a genuine possibility. After 16 matches, United are level on points with the champions, Liverpool, having played a game less. While neutrals may point to the Reds’ injury issues as the reason for an open title race, that would be somewhat disrespectful to the Red Devils’ recent progression.
Similarly to Fernandes, Cantona moved to Old Trafford midway through the 1992-93 season. Following the arrival of the world-renowned French forward, United’s win rate rose from 41 per cent 66 per cent, with their points per game also increasing to 2.2 from 1.6, as per talkSPORT. Fernandes, on the other hand, has been the catalyst behind Solskjaer’s team’s current 63 per cent win rate. That figure represents a 25 per cent increase from the previous 24 games played without the Portuguese playmaker.
Additionally, in their first two Premier League campaigns in Manchester, Cantona registered a goal-scoring contribution every 98 minutes, while Fernandes’ rate currently sits at every 76 minutes.
A Much-Needed Character in the United Dressing Room
Shortly after joining the 20-time English league winners, the 26-year-old wasted little time introducing himself to the Old Trafford faithful. In just his third Premier League match, Fernandes scored and assisted in a three-goal victory over Watford. Ultimately, the result contributed to the Hornets’ eventual relegation, but, as of January 6th, they are 16/1 at Championship betting to return to the top flight at the first time of asking by winning the second tier.
Recently, Paul Ince sparked widespread discussion when he suggested that Fernandes could be the Red Devils’ modern-day Cantona. Aside from the stats, which support such a claim, the former England midfielder touched on the Portuguese international’s character. Ince praised how the 26-year-old “puts demands on players”, much like The King did during the 90s. While impressive, Fernandes’ contributions will ultimately mean nothing if he can’t replicate Cantona’s impact and take United back to the title. That said, with an 18-goal involvement in the first 16 top-flight matches of 2020-21, the former Sporting Lisbon playmaker deserves immense credit for the speed at which he’s adapted to English football.
Closer Than Ever Before, but Can They See it Through?
At the time of writing, United have their best chance of winning the Premier League since their last triumph in 2011. With Manchester City looking unconvincing and Liverpool struggling with injuries, the Red Devils’ new-found ruthlessness has come at the perfect time. Crucially, if Fernandes can sustain his red-hot form, then the title is there for the taking.