The modern game is increasingly about keeping the ball, but there is one player who continues to buck the trend. Bruno Fernandes’ passing selections are all about risk and reward. The Manchester United captain is a creative force who plays without fear of losing the ball.

There is a statistic that highlights his unique approach. It uses tracking data to calculate the expected completion rate of each pass based on the players’ position on the pitch. The results reveal that Fernandez’s expected pass completion rate is just 69.7 percent.

He is the only player in the Premier League to have completed 100 passes this season and whose expected pass completion rate is below 70 per cent. What this means is that Fernandes attempts more difficult passes than any other player.

The fact that his actual pass completion rate is slightly higher is a testament to his ability to make those passes. But perhaps the real skill, his greatest talent, is having the vision to spot them in the first place. Fernandes has the imagination, that image in his head.

One of the reasons his passes are so difficult is that they are often between opposition players. Fernandes ranks second in the English Premier League in terms of passes that break the opponent’s defensive line, having tried 56 of them this season.

He’s not trying to hit a stationary target either. There are moving parts at play here. The average speed of his pass receivers is also the highest in the Premier League. Fernandes often finds players on the run. It is a very difficult skill.

Bruno Fernandes' expected assists for Manchester United in the Premier League this season

In a conversation with Erik ten Hag at the club’s training ground, these numbers were put to the Manchester United manager. He has no desire to discourage his commander. “We have to support him and give him the confidence to continue doing this,” says Ten Hag. Sky Sports.

“Because he’s a genius at giving that final pass.”

The Dutchman knows it’s not easy. “It takes a lot,” adds Ten Haag. “First, intelligence. But also character when things go wrong a few times and you keep trying to do it.” It takes a certain mentality to keep avoiding the easy pass and the hard pass.

Steven Gerrard tells a story from his early days at Liverpool. His midfield partner Gary McAllister, a good passer of the ball himself, advised him to keep the next pass simple after losing the ball. This will help rebuild confidence before risking the ball again.

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Kevin De Bruyne rates three of the best players in his position – Bruno Fernandes, Martin Odegaard and James Maddison – describing his Manchester United rival as a “creative machine”.

Fernandez regularly ignores this rule. The first pass may fail to find its target, and there may be some groans from the crowd, but if he sees the opportunity is there to find that chance again just seconds later, the Portuguese will always seize that opportunity.

It’s an approach that helps make Fernandes the most creative player in the Premier League. Predicted Passes calculates the probability of a pass leading to a goal. It’s a more pure assessment of creativity than actual assists because it doesn’t take into account the finishing touch itself.

Fernandes tops the list of expected assists this season.

Bruno Fernandes' expected assists for Manchester United in the Premier League this season

However, Ten Hag remains keen to strike the right balance. He wants his maker to continue making things happen for Manchester United in the attacking third of the pitch. But his commitment is possession-based and that means there are limits.

“Of course, I hope he can increase his pass completions but still impact the game in the same way with the key pass, the final pass. That’s what he’s aiming for.” It is an ongoing conversation between the player and his manager. “We have to help him,” he adds.

He added: “But a player of his age, who is also a captain, sometimes has to think strategically that keeping the ball is also very important for the team to control the match.” Be a pioneer? “This is absolutely leadership. Recognition of making the right decisions.”

Bruno Fernandes' heat map and passing sonar for Manchester United in the 2023/24 season

The Ten Hag’s job is to make sure Fernandes has enough of the ball and enough of it in the most effective areas. This could change. “He has a big influence on our game, so we see from game to game what is needed, and what is needed against the opponent,” he says.

“Bruno can do it from multiple positions. He can do it from central positions but he can also do it from wide positions. Last season we also tried him doing it from a deeper role. There you can also see that he can play very good passes and very constructive.” “.

Tin Hag knows what his captain can do. His job is to provide him with the platform, put the right players around him, do the right things, to take advantage of his skills. Creating conditions for success. He adds: “We have to put Bruno in the right spaces on the ball.”

Bruno Fernandes will do the rest.

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