Manchester United climbed into the Champions League spots with a 1-0 victory over West Ham on Saturday evening. The performance will have provided manager Ralf Rangnick with a lot of food for thought, but he shouldn’t let the three points derail his transfer plans.
The game looked destined to finish goalless until Marcus Rashford popped up with a late winner with one of the last kicks of the game.
The second-half substitute tapped home from close range after Edinson Cavani broke free down the left and squared a neat pass across the face of the goal.
There was a lot to like about the performance from Rangnick’s point of view, especially considering how his side limited the Hammers to very few opportunities and contained the likes of Michail Antonio, Pablo Fornals and Jarrod Bowen.
Plenty were impressed by the role Bruno Fernandes played whilst deployed as a No 8 in the Red Devils’ three-man midfield, though it must not prevent Rangnick from pressing on with his prior plans to sign a midfielder.
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It is no secret that United are keen to bolster their ranks in the centre of the park and have been linked with top quality playmakers such as Jude Bellingham of late, and the pursuit of another midfielder should not be halted due to Fernandes.
The former Sporting star has certainly benefitted from being able to make his presence felt all over the pitch rather than just centrally, though he has had to adapt his game and shoulder some of the defensive responsibility.
But Fernandes has shone in the midfield alongside Fred and Scott McTominay, both of which have not shown enough ability to suggest that they are at the required standard for United to be able to compete for silverware.
The pair struggled previously under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and, although have had good performances individually, they haven’t made great strides since the appointment of Rangnick.
If United are to close the gap on rivals Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea then they will need a minimum of two world-class midfielders in the centre of the park – as the aforementioned clubs do – and therefore Fernandes needs improvements around him.
The 27-year-old has scored seven and assisted five so far this season whilst deployed as a No 10, but most recently struggled to adapt to Rangnick’s 4-2-2-2 system and therefore has succumbed to a spot on the bench on occasions.
But the Portugal international has clearly shown enough ability to make the former RB Leipzig boss veer away from his tried and tested formation as he has now chosen to move to a 4-3-3.
If the Red Devils can acquire the services of a more defensive-minded midfielder, with West Ham’s Declan Rice springing to mind, then Rangnick may have the core of a squad that his successor can push up the table with.
Speaking about the switch in formation and thus the role of Fernandes earlier this week, the German boss said: “I think most of the top teams in Europe and also in England play in a 4-3-3.
“I think for him it’s better than being pinned to a No 10 role because he can make himself available in different areas of the pitch, not only the centre of the pitch.
“He’s not a wing player but I think in this No 8 position he can find the places himself. I think he can sniff the moments in which areas we need to play the ball to him. He can make himself available and therefore I think this position is perfect for him.”
It would be very easy for the higher powers at Old Trafford to think they’ve found a quick fix to their midfield woes, but that is far from the case. Instead, they must look at how they can improve the players surrounding the playmaker if they are to return to their glory days.
It remains to be seen what talent United can attract between now and the end of the window.