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07th Mar 2023

The role of Antony and Bruno Fernandes in Man United’s 7-0 loss to Liverpool must be highlighted

Robert Redmond

There is a lot of blame to go around, but the performances of two players must be highlighted.

It was obvious from the opening minutes of the game that Liverpool were fired-up against Manchester United. The Red Devils needed to weather a storm, be disciplined and match Liverpool’s aggression to earn a result. Yet, despite being the better team in the first half, they capitulated. The 7-0 defeat is the club’s biggest loss since 1931.

There were a lot of poor individual performances. Two players in particular, however, stood apart. Bruno Fernandes and Antony were terrible, and their displays should raise concerns for Erik ten Hag.

Bruno Fernandes’ performance against Liverpool.

In Man United’s most intense away fixture of the season, only cool heads would prevail. Bruno, as captain, is meant to set the tone for his team with his actions. He did, but not in any positive sense.

Liverpool’s approach was typified by Mohamed Salah. The Reds’ best player worked hard and was ready when goal-scoring chances fell his way.

Fernandes, by contrast, displayed none of the characteristics one would expect to see from a captain. Like Man United as a team, he was tactically indisciplined and bad-tempered.

One of Bruno’s worst moments came after 65 minutes, with Man United losing 3-0 but on the attack, Antony played a good pass for a change and found Alejandro Garnacho running through on Liverpool’s goal.

Images via Match of the Day.

The Red Devils had an overload on Jurgen Klopp’s team, with Fernandes, Casemiro, Antony and Marcus Rashford running into the box.

Garnacho ignored them and took a low-value shot that resulted in a corner. It was a poor decision by a teenage substitute still ironing out the flaws within his game.

Yet, Bruno was furious and berated his teammate for not attempting to find him at the back post. Senior players are right to set standards and call out teammates for poor decisions.

Fernandes’ feedback, however, is not constructive. It benefits no one when he takes his frustrations out on the youngest member of the team, particularly when he doesn’t practice what he preaches.

Images via Match of the Day.

A few minutes beforehand, Bruno had an opportunity to cross the ball into the box for Wout Weghorst. If you aren’t going to cross the ball into the box for Weghorst to attack, what is the point in having him in the team?

Fernandes, however, ignored his six-foot-six teammate, who had a run on Virgil van Dijk, to cut back inside, allowing Liverpool to get into position. They easily repelled his cut-back to Antony, before breaking up the pitch and scoring a third goal.

A lot went wrong for the Red Devils after Bruno’s mistake, but the Man United captain made a poor decision to start the move. Garnacho is 18. What’s Bruno’s excuse?

Something similar happened for the fourth goal. After barking at Garnacho, Bruno took Man United’s corner and played it short to Luke Shaw. The Portuguese midfielder received the ball back and floated a limp, slow and aimless cross into the penalty area. Again, it was easy for Liverpool and they broke up the pitch to score.

This two-minute passage of play summed up the issues with Fernandes. Firstly, he berated his teammate for making a poor decision on the ball, despite making similar mistakes. Complaining like this can have a corrosive effect and appeared to contribute to Man United’s downfall on the day. Their performance was framed by negativity.

Bruno also appeared to improvise when he was on the ball. This freestyle approach can benefit a team. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in a side without a defined approach, Fernandes was excellent and his individualistic style carried a team without a clear identity.

On Sunday, however, the issues with this approach were evident. Man United need team players who fit a clearly defined tactical style, not soloists who may or may not do something constructive.

Images via Match of the Day.

Antony’s performance against Liverpool.

The other Man United player involved in the above passage of play was Antony, who was effortlessly pushed off the ball by Salah.

The Brazilian winger joined Man United for £85m from Ajax last summer. He can’t choose his price tag, so it is unfair to judge him on this alone.

Antony, however, can choose to track back or be in the right position when his team don’t have the ball.

It may have been a tactical instruction from Ten Hag for Antony to ignore Andy Robertson’s runs forward, but it seems unlikely.

As the images below show, the former Ajax winger treated tracking Robertson as an optional assignment. It is no surprise that Liverpool’s first goal came down this side.

Images via Match of the Day.

The above images are from early in the game, with the score 0-0. At this point, Man United should have been aiming to quieten the crowd and shut down early pressure from the home team. Yet, Antony surrendered the flank to Robertson. Liverpool evidently saw him as a weak link in the team.

In their previous match, a 2-0 win over Wolves – the Reds attacked down the left flank with 32 per cent of their possession, and 46 per cent on the right – where their chief creator Trent Alexander-Arnold plays.

Yet, against Man United, they went down the left channel 38 per cent of the time, and 39 per cent on the right. Klopp’s team appeared to realise that they could hurt United by targeting their right-hand side.

The Brazilian lost the ball more times than any other Man United player (4). He also offered Diogo Dalot almost no defensive protection.

Dalot made six tackles, six clearances and two interceptions – 14 defensive contributions, which is significantly more than any other United player.

The full-back was under siege because his teammate didn’t help him. Antony didn’t make up for it when he had possession either. He offered no threat in attacking positions.

The 23-year-old appears somewhat one-dimensional on the ball, ultra-reliant on his left foot and easy to read. The chances are that, when he has the ball, he’s going to cut inside and try to shoot on his left foot. Unlike Arjen Robben, he has yet to perfect this move.

Antony also only completed 63 per cent of his passes, putting his team under further pressure with his loose play. According to FBRef, Antony attempted 25 dribbles, but only carried the ball forward four times. In short, he was deeply ineffective both with and without the ball.

Man United have played a lot of games lately, their squad depth is thin and they came up against Liverpool on their best day of the season. They managed the game poorly and were steamrolled by a rampant Reds team.

Yet, the performance of Antony and Fernandes should raise questions for Ten Hag that go beyond a single game. They are talented players, but soloists who are an awkward fit for a side that is supposed to be built on cohesion, discipline and camaraderie.

Ten Hag must decide if it is worth preserving with Bruno and Antony for their performances on their best days. At their worst though, the pair offered almost nothing positive to their team.

Related links.

Statistics via FBRef and WhoScored.