After much anticipation Bruno Fernandes price has been revealed at 10.5 million. Given the prevailing view is that Fernandes is a season keeper and possible perma-captain next season 10.5 seems reasonable.
Fernandes joined United in January and started the last 14 league games, totalling 1187 minutes, 8 goals, 8 assists and 117 points. In short, an astonishing start to his Old Trafford career. Fernandes was responsible for 6 double figure hauls and blanked on only 3 occasions, all of which points to him being a great captain option and must pick.
But is there more to the Portuguese playmakers opening half season than meets the eye? One main criticism of United and Fernandes’ form since he joined was the quality of opposition. This can be mainly ignored for now as Fernandes played four games last season against the top 6 and returned in all 4, scoring 32 points against Manchester City, Chelsea, Leicester and Spurs.
However what can not be ignored is the nature of his returns and the sustainability of these has to be questioned. The obvious place to start is the xG and xA stats. Listed below is Fernandes’ xG stats with Kevin de Bruyne’s in brackets to show some context.
Expected goals: 5.99 (8.11)
Expected assists: 2.76 (20.62)
Non penalty Expected Goals: 2.94 (6.58)
Expected goals per 90: 0.44 (0.26)
Expected assists per 90: 0.20 (0.66)
Shots per 90: 3.27 (3.19)
Key passes per 90: 2.23 (4.25)
The main takeaway from the stats is that if Fernandes reverts to the averages his 14 games would have yielded 6 goals and 3 assists. As a newcomer in a patchy team that would have been a great return. As a 10.5 million captain option they start to look worrying, especially as the xG without penalties is less than 3.
However, as lawyers suing the government over A-Level results will tell us statistical modelling can only tell us so much. With that in mind let’s review every one of Fernandes’ FPL returns with the “eye test” to see how sustainable his numbers are.
Assist #1 (Chelsea A – Maguire)
A superb corner swung into the 6 yard box allowing Maguire to head home. A sustainable part of Fernandes game is his superior set piece and ball striking ability but whilst goals from set pieces are hardly a rarity they are the cherry on the cake of a 10.5 million perma-Captain not the basis.
Goal #2 (Watford H)
Fernandes assumed penalty duties pre lockdown with both Pogba and Rashford injured and scored his first goal for the club after his now trademark skip and roll in to the corner. As with his first set piece goal, being a penalty expert is nothing to be sniffed at but again needs to be an added extra rather than the main reason for his goals. United were awarded a league leading 14 league penalties last season which is, quite frankly, bizarre and unsustainable to say the least. United of course do have a quick, exciting attacking front three but there’s nothing to suggest they can keep up their tally of 14 penalties won – they were 5th for goals scored, 5th for penalty box touches and 4th for most dribbles. The tally of 14 in one season is a record in Premier League history, and was 3 more than Manchester City last season, and an astonishing 9 more than Liverpool. Whilst the tally of 14 was only 2 more than the season before the law of averages tell us that United are more likely to revert to single figures of penalties awarded than have a third season of double figures.
The other issue to consider with the penalties is that even though Fernandes is clearly the first choice penalty taker he is not the only penalty taker. Fernandes relinquished penalty duties against Bournemouth when he allowed Rashford to score and was on the brink of relinquishing a late penalty against Spurs before VAR cancelled it – Rashford had the ball in his hands whilst the check was completed.
The penalty issue is so important given 4 of Fernandes’ 8 goals were scored from the spot. How likely is it United get 10 plus penalties again? How many of them will he give away to Rashford? How many might be missed? A lot of questions for a 10.5 million captain.
Assist #2 (Watford H – Greenwood)
The first example of Fernandes being credited with an assist for a scorching finish. Mason Greenwood won the ball on the edge of his own area before running to the edge of Watford’s where he played a simple one two, Fernandes two yard pass was lashed into the top corner from the edge of the area.
Goal #2 (Everton A)
The ball was fed to Fernandes outside the penalty area who hit the ball early as he drilled a shot through the hapless Jordan Pickford. Again the quality of the strike can’t be argued against but the goalkeeping left a lot to be desired.
Assist #3 (Man City H)
A clever scooped free kick from Fernandes allowed Martial to volley towards goal, where Ederson made Pickford look like Buffon as he fumbled over the line. A superb piece of thinking by Fernandes but aided by poor keeping again.
Goal #3 (Spurs A)
Goal #4 (Brighton A)
A tame shot from the outside of the area took a huge deflection to spin past Ryan. Clearly not sustainable but always liable to happen from someone who loves shooting when he has a chance.
Goal #5 (Brighton A)
The pick of Fernandes’ goals last season. A lightning break by United saw Greenwood float a cross over to Fernandes who volleyed first time for his second of the game.
Assist #4 (Bournemouth H – Greenwood)
Fernandes simple ball out wide was gathered by Greenwood outside the area who crashed home into the top corner with a quite ludicrous finish.
Assist #5 (Bournemouth H – Martial)
Again positives and negatives in this goal, as Fernandes was a key part of an attacking move. The unsustainable negative being that his simple pass was gathered by Martial outside of the area who jinked inside before curling in off the underside of the bar.
Goal #6 (Bournemouth H)
A stunning direct free kick from the edge of the box again showcased his ball striking ability as well as showing a reliance on set pieces.
Goal #7 (Aston Villa A)
Assist #6 (Aston Villa A – Pogba)
A clever corner this time as Fernandes found Pogba outside of the area who curled home. A mix of a few emerging Fernandes trademarks here. Quick thinking, good set piece delivery as well as superb but unsustainable finishing from outside of the box by a team mate.
Assist #7 (Southampton H – Martial)
Another simple assist for Fernandes who drove forward and slipped the ball left to Martial who dribbled inside and smashed high into the net.
Assist #8 (Crystal Palace A – Rashford)
Another assist that owed more to the scorer than the assister. A pass to Rashford saw him confronted by two defenders and the goalkeeper before Rashford stopped the ball dead, sending the opposition flailing and allowing Rashford to roll home.
Goal #8 (Leicester A)
The breakdown of his goals reveals two startling things. Firstly a reliance on set pieces. 8/16 returns from a set piece. The other is an unsustainable trend on his team mates scoring screamers.
The positive view on Fernandes would be he is a swaggering, elite player, the talisman of a side with masses of great attacking options who has already registered 117 points in 14 gameweeks. That would convert to 318 points in a season.
The churlish worrying view is of a player who has 16 returns in 14 games. Of those 16 returns, 4 were penalties, 1 was a direct free kick, 2 were goalkeeper errors, 1 was a deflection, 6 were borderline screamers by team mates.
Clearly both views are extremes, but the most interesting revelation from going through the goals is that so many of Fernandes’ assists have relied on team mates ability, this is in stark contrast to De Bruyne for example who often sets up his team mates for open goal tap ins – this is reflected in the xA numbers, staggeringly even as de Bruyne equalled the assist record of 20 he and his teammates actually under performed his xA numbers.
At 10.5 million and a captain option it surely makes sense to wait and see on Fernandes, especially as United are likely to miss the opening weeks. As stunning as his first 14 gameweeks were there may be an unsustainable sting in the tail for perma captainers.