Jadon Sancho may have been on the bench and Raphael Varane in the stands after his spectacular entry, but on the pitch it was 4-2-3-1, midfielder “McFred” and the most recent signing. to start was Bruno. Fernandes.
And it was the addition of Fernandes in January 2020 that put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s United on the move. He sparked the revolution, but it was only the fifth time he had performed to a full house at Old Trafford.
The returning loyalists got all of Fernandes’ hits except for one icy penalty. An open play hat-trick is a retort to those who say he only scores 12 yards.
His three goals against Leeds came from closer than the penalty spot and for each of them he was running behind the visiting defense. Watch those goals without knowing where he’s playing and you’d think Fernandes was a center-forward.
When Solskjaer learned last year that Fernandes was breaking records as a scoring midfielder at United, he scoffed at the idea and said he was playing in front. It was a demonstration of what he meant.
It’s the presence of Scott McTominay and Fred that gives Fernandes the platform to be part of a four-man attack, far more than a three-way midfielder and his returns speak for themselves. That’s now 43 goals in 81 games.
This is something Solskjaer will have to keep in mind if he changes United’s form this season. He wants to use 4-3-3 more often and that will be made possible by the addition of Varane, a one-on-one supreme defender. Varane and Harry Maguire won’t need McTominay and Fred’s protection at all times.
But the 4-3-3 would likely see Fernandes move from a No.10 role to a No.8, pushing him even further off goal. The three runs he made yesterday to score his hat trick were classic runs from an early attacking midfielder position, but might not be so easy to do if he’s a little further back .
If Solskjaer chooses to field Pogba and Fernandes as No.8, say, or Van de Beek and Fernandes, then they will have a slightly more defensive job to do than the Portuguese striker at the moment. The workload would be distributed a little more.
Portugal tend to play with a 4-3-3 and so far have failed to make the most of Fernandes. He moved away from the starting XI in the European Championship and has just four goals and three assists in 33 caps.
Portugal’s regular watchers are likely seeing Fernandes exit for United and wondering why he can’t replicate that for the national team, but he doesn’t have the squad built around him for Portugal like he does at Old Trafford.
The move to a 4-3-3 will give United even more options going forward, but it will have to be weighed against the possibility of losing some Fernandes in the final third. This form could give United more control over the games, but you could also lose the unpredictability of having a player like Fernandes as No.10.
The tactical flexibility will help United move forward and there will be different approaches for different games, but despite all the criticism the McFred partnership often receives, on Saturday recalled that they offer the best conditions for Fernandes to thrive.
Sign up for our United newsletter to never miss an Old Trafford update this s raison.