Man Utd v Man City: Fernandes silenced the sceptics to become De Bruyne's contemporary
Saturday's Manchester derby sees arguably English football's two finest midfielders tussle; Kevin De Bruyne and Bruno Fernandes.
Bruno Fernandes' arrival at Manchester United was met with a wide variety of responses from fans and pundits alike – while excitement was certainly among them, there were also those doubting his credentials.
This was a player who had plundered 20 goals and 13 assists during the 2018-19 Primeira Liga season with Sporting CP, testament to his potential influence.
Yet, such as it is when almost any player – regardless of how good – comes to the Premier League from abroad, scepticism lingers like a committee of vultures.
The senseless world of social media is often quick to brand a player or coach a "fraud" and those who've "not done it in the Premier League" are the easiest targets.
But here we are, a little over 10 months on from Fernandes' United debut and few would give a second thought to suggesting the Portugal star is the finest attacking midfielder in English football with Kevin De Bruyne.
While their own personal exploits may not be everyone's main focus at Old Trafford in Saturday's Manchester derby, with the intra-city bragging rights and trials and tribulations of the respective managers arguably more pertinent, there are few occasions when one gets to enjoy two players of such class face off.
Saturday's derby promises to be as intriguing as ever, with Pep Guardiola's City in the midst of something of a season kick-start right at the perfect moment as the hectic Christmas schedule arrives, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs a result following Champions League elimination.
And, in fairness to Solskjaer, he boasts a strong record against Guardiola, with his 60 per cent win rate from five meetings a better ratio than any other coach to have faced the Catalan coach at least four times.
Whatever the outcome, it seems a reasonable prediction that De Bruyne or Fernandes will have a say one way or another – both are so influential that keeping either quiet will go a long way, but every team knows that and few have succeeded.
Only N'Golo Kante (17) has started more passing sequences that have led to a shot than De Bruyne (14) and Fernandes (13) – while perhaps unremarkable in isolation, such a fact highlights an overarching influence rather than just being the players who set up the forwards, though they do that too.
Both are imperious when it comes to chance creation, and it won't be a huge surprise to learn De Bruyne's six assists this season is right up there and only bettered by – somewhat more surprising – Harry Kane (10).
Fernandes' four isn't quite as good, though both are outperforming their respective expected assists (xA) records. The United star's is 2.9, while De Bruyne's is 2.4, showing they are capable of the extraordinary – De Bruyne's exquisite assist for Benjamin Mendy against Burnley was that very brilliance in action.
But Fernandes actually creates more chances than his rival. At a rate of four per 90 minutes in the Premier League this term, his total of 35 is second only to Hakan Calhanoglu across Europe's top five leagues heading into the weekend.
Additionally, Fernandes' xA record per 90 minutes is 0.33, a marginal increase on De Bruyne's 0.3.
UNITED OVER-RELIANT ON FERNANDES?
Fernandes comes into his own in front of goal, which is arguably where he's strongest. After all, his haul of 15 goals in the Premier League since joining United is the same amount as Kane and Jamie Vardy, and just one shy of Mohamed Salah.
Granted Fernandes takes penalties as well, but he also scores from all over the attacking third, as his expected goals (xG) graphic shows.
Add in 11 assists and you get a goal involvement total bettered by no one in the Premier League since he was signed, which is truly remarkable.
But that's not to take gloss from De Bruyne's own record (19 involvements – eight goals, 11 assists) in the same time frame, as that is the fourth best in England's top flight.
It's arguable, however, that Fernandes is more crucial to United than De Bruyne is to City, though perhaps that's also partly down to the standards of the respective squads and managers.
In the seven Premier League games Fernandes has failed to score or claim an assist, United have won only two (28.6 per cent) – City have still won 47 of the 85 (55.3 per cent) Premier League games in which De Bruyne has not contributed to a goal.
But the point here isn't to determine or even suggest which player is better, rather simply acknowledge them both for what they are; exceptional talents at the top of the game.
While neither City nor United have been particularly outstanding this term, Fernandes and De Bruyne continue to excel and catch the imagination.
De Bruyne's elegance on the ball is matched by his manipulation of it and general tirelessness, almost combining the talents of United greats David Beckham, Paul Scholes and Roy Keane into one player.
Fernandes isn't too far behind in any of those areas either – he boasts the off-the-cuff style of playmakers of old but is also gutsy, tenacious and clinical. Then there's his range of Frank Lampard-esque goal varieties, and who knows, maybe he'll even go on to rival the Chelsea great's numbers one day.
Maybe not. Either way, Fernandes has emphatically silenced the sceptics and become a contemporary of De Bruyne's – who predicted that in February?
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