UEFA Europa League

Erik ten Hag showers praise on midfielder amid stunning performance to close wounds of Liverpool defeat

Bruno Fernandes put in a five star performance as Manchester United tear Betis

Following heavy criticism of the Portuguese midfielder this week, Erik ten Hag praised Bruno Fernandes for showing his personality’ in Manchester United’s 4-1 win over Real Betis.


Gary Neville called the playmaker a “disgrace” after his behaviour during United’s 7-0 loss to rivals Liverpool at Anfield on Sunday.

Given Harry Maguire’s continued absence from the starting XI, Fernandes has effectively been the side’s captain this season, but there have been calls to remove him from the armband following his ill-discipline at Anfield, when he appeared to push the linesman.


However, after contributing to three of the four goals against Betis, Ten Hag named Fernandes his Man of the Match and praised his character.

‘I think he was the best player on the pitch,’ Ten Hag said.

‘He demonstrated his personality. He played a bit of a deeper role, which I thought he did brilliantly.


‘I think he was the leader, and he was making the game from the back, with a lot of good passes in between the lines, and from there on we created a lot of chances,’ says the coach.

The win gives United a 4-1 aggregate lead going into the second leg in Seville, thanks in large part to Fernandes, who responded perfectly to the criticism he’s faced since Sunday.


On a night when United had no choice but to get things going quickly, they did just that. Ten Hag named the same starting lineup that was humiliated at Anfield, asking them to make amends for their ‘unprofessional’ performance.

Marcus Rashford stated on Monday that he wanted to play again as soon as possible to get the Liverpool game out of his system, and there was anger in the way he fired past Claudio Bravo at his near post in the sixth minute.

United kept up the pace, as if they wanted to put on a show, and they should have been ahead by the half-hour mark, with Rashford, Wout Weghorst, and Fernandes all missing good chances.


If the early goal had calmed a jittery United team, David De Gea had not gotten the message. During the first half, the Spaniard gave up possession four times, two of which almost resulted in a goal.

When former Leicester City forward Ayoze Perez equalised, it was a stroke of luck as Juanmi appeared to handle the ball before putting the Spaniard in, who scored with the visitors’ first shot on target.

The goal knocked United off their stride, with Betis gaining confidence after their own shaky start.

After scoring against the run of play, the Spaniards could have easily been ahead at the break when they pounced on another De Gea slip. Perez was put through in the box, and his pullback was deflected off Fernandes and onto the post.

That was the extent of Betis’ threat, as a Fernandes-inspired United produced a second-half performance that was far more in line with their recent form.

After helping to set up the first goal, Fernandes provided the second as Antony restored United’s lead with what is quickly becoming his trademark. Bravo had no chance as the Brazilian cut in from the right and floated a wonderful curling effort into the opposite corner.

Fernandes joined in on the fun less than five minutes later. Luke Shaw, who had taken over corner duties from the Portuguese, whipped a perfect cross onto Fernandes’ head, and he made it 3-1.

Roy Keane described Fernandes’ behaviour against Liverpool as “embarrassing,” and he could have had no complaints if he had been stripped of the armband.

Though Ten Hag made it clear in his pre-match press conference that this would not be the case, the pressure was still on Fernandes to heal some of the wounds opened up by the mauling at Anfield.

If there was any doubt about how his teammates felt about his behaviour, they went some way towards answering it by forming a circle around Fernandes after he scored. They were clearly trying to send a message of unity.

Fernandes was given more time in possession in a reduced role in midfield with Fred in front of him than he has had in recent weeks as a number ten or as a right winger.

Apart from the scoreline, Fernandes’ frustration on Sunday was that he had played in various positions throughout the defeat, and Ten Hag’s decision to play him in a deeper role against Betis was astute, as it kept the Portuguese involved in all aspects of the game.

United deserved a two-goal lead for their dominance, and another goal would effectively end the tie, leaving Betis in need of a miracle in the second leg.

If Ten Hag could have chosen a scorer to find the fourth, he would have most likely gone with Wout Weghorst. The Dutchman has only scored once since joining on loan in January, and while fans have embraced his enthusiastic performances, his goal drought has been met with growing jeers with each missed opportunity.

When Weghorst scored, in front of the Stretford End, he and the 73,000-strong crowd erupted as if he’d just found a last-minute winner.

The Dutchman was chastised for touching the ‘This Is Anfield’ sign before kick-off on Sunday, but he proved his allegiance at the full-time whistle, applauding all four corners of Old Trafford long after his teammates had left.

After the club’s heaviest defeat since 1931, there was at least some redemption for United and Fernandes.

Football Auditor

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