Manchester United have obvious Bruno Fernandes replacement for Sevilla Europa League fixture
A scandalous yellow card decision in the first leg means Bruno Fernandes will play no part in the return trip to Sevilla in Manchester United’s Europa League quarter-final clash on Thursday.
Felix Zwayer’s booking of the playmaker for handball despite being only a yard away with his back to the shot meant the Portugal star had clocked three cautions and was required to sit out a match.
Fernandes’ absence will be felt and his performance in Sunday’s 2-0 win over Nottingham Forest evidenced how he can dictate a game from midfield.
READ MORE: Injury update on Marcel Sabitzer
The 28-year-old had 96 touches and made six key passes, seeing him pip goal-and-assist star Antony to the man-of-the-match award.
United are having to deal with the absences of a number of other players too including Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez. Top scorer Marcus Rashford could also still be unavailable with the fitness of Marcel Sabitzer is uncertain after picking up a problem in the warm-up at the City Ground.
Two key players have recently come back from time on the sidelines, though. The end of Casemiro’s domestic suspension saw him start against Forest and he proved to be as astute as ever. Christian Eriksen made his first start since injury during the game having been brought in late to replace Sabitzer.
Eriksen played 79 minutes, completing 55 of his 62 passes, in what was better preparation for a start against Sevilla. He’ll be needed amid the absence of Fernandes’ creativity.
The Dane has dropped back into a deeper midfield role when Fernandes is available, providing a formidable trio alongside Casemiro. But 255 of his 538 career games have been played as an attacking midfielder with 139 others coming as a right or left winger.
He has played in central midfield 119 times with 24 of his 34 United matches coming in the position. He’s played the role immensely but his natural instincts are forward-thinking and he must feel most at ease in the attacking role.
It’s a credit to him that he can be as effective from further back as further forward. He’s only operated as the attacking midfielder under Erik ten Hag four times, although he could be about to get a fifth outing there.
Speaking after the Forest win about his progress at UnitedEriksen said with a half-smile: “Yeah if you take into account how we started, I came here and played as a striker in the first game.
“It’s a completely different role now and a completely different feeling around the club and also on the pitch. The feeling around the boys are really good.”
He’s not played the striker role since that 2-1 loss to Brighton but has instead bagged nine assists from midfield, only second to Fernandes who has two more having played an extra 15 games.
Sabitzer seemed to operate more freely in the attacking midfield role but he isn’t as creative as Eriksen and may not be available anyway. Scott McTominay may have scored four in his last two Scotland matches but Ten Hag sees him as a sitting midfielder.
The likelihood is that Fred will come in to add the energy alongside Casemiro. The former has only played as the front midfielder once since Christmas while Eriksen has held the position twice in the same period, including against Sevilla on Thursday.
Kobbie Mainoo is a future star but there is unlikely to be a Charlton-like surprise with his inclusion in the line-up while Zidane Iqbal has not kicked a ball all season. Donny van de Beek is also out for the campaign.
And so, all things considered, it seems Eriksen is the obvious man to deputise for Fernandes.
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