Bruno Fernandes has more than enough credit in the bank with Erik ten Hag to be spared the ignominy of losing the Manchester United captain’s armband this week or before the end of this season. It was, after all, just seven days prior to his display of petulance and surrender at Anfield that he was helping to lift the Carabao Cup trophy at Wembley along with Harry Maguire.
Yet if the no-holds-barred post-mortem held at Carrington on Monday featuring a prolonged video debrief will have made uncomfortable viewing for all, it will have been excruciating for the Portuguese. Feigning injury, diving, moaning at team-mates, failing to track back and shoving a linesman – for all he will not face action from the FA over that – constituted a bad day at the office.
There was no real mitigation – not even that there were others who played as badly – compounded by the armband which set him apart as an example which others should follow. Yet those close to Fernandes sought to rally round him with sources at United pointing to the fact he is a player who wears his heart, as well as an armband, on his sleeve and one often buffeted a little more than most by the passion and emotion of games.
Ten Hag, who had the players in at 9am as usual on Monday to try to analyse just what went wrong in a wholly unacceptable performance, is both a perfectionist and a pragmatist. And while he has ruled out of hand stripping Fernandes of the armband, he will know Sunday’s result showed United still have problems to resolve for all their progress this season.
A striker remains a priority in the summer with Victor Osimhen and Harry Kane high on the list of possible targets given Wout Weghorst has struggled to impact games and Anthony Martial is not fit enough long enough to rely on. And while there have been undoubtedly been successes in recruitment notably Lisandro Martinez and Casemiro, others like Antony, at £86million, is yet to convince fully with three league goals, no assists and seemingly just one foot.
Of some concern to Ten Hag will be United’s record against top six sides away from home as well. They have now lost to neighbours City, Arsenal and now Liverpool, shipping 16 goals in three games. And while they are in a better place now than they were when losing 4-0 at Anfield in April towards the end of last season, certainly in terms of upward progression and support, Ten Hag remains concerned at whether Sunday revealed deeper fracture lines.
Liverpool at Anfield in the sort of mood they were in the second half on Sunday can do that to anyone and if Ten Hag is to turn United into title contenders, they need solutions. They need a striker, a new right-back or a step forward from Diogo Dalot and another midfield option for starters.
That will be for the summer but yesterday Ten Hag was trying to establish where they fell short and he is unlikely to draw too many more conclusions than he did watching it on Sunday – namely, concentration, resolve and organisation. The visit of Real Betis in the Europa League on Thursday offers a first shot at redemption and unless either Raphael Varane or Martinez are unfit and Harry Maguire plays, Fernandes will lead them out. For all his heroics this season he owes them one.