Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag hailed goalscoring skipper Bruno Fernandes as the star man in his side’s Europa League last-16 first-leg victory against Real Betis.
Fernandes had taken the brunt of huge criticism heaped on United following Sunday’s record 7-0 Premier League humiliation at Liverpool.
But Ten Hag confirmed in the build-up the Portuguese would remain captain if Harry Maguire was not on the field – and Fernandes repaid that faith with an outstanding contribution to a much-needed win.
It included his eighth goal of the season as he headed home Luke Shaw’s 58th-minute corner.
“He was the best player on the pitch,” said Ten Hag. “He played a little deeper role and he was brilliant, making the game from the back position, with a lot of good passes in between the lines. From there we created a lot of chances.”
Ten Hag accepted Fernandes was not perfect. A late tackle on Betis’ former Manchester City goalkeeper Claudio Bravo brought the midfielder a yellow card and did not look good.
But the United boss admitted it is a fine line Fernandes has to tread.
“His passion is his strength,” added Ten Hag. “But sometimes he has to control that because when it’s too much, it becomes a weakness. He knows that, but there are always small margins.”
Fernandes ran away to celebrate his goal with his hands to his ears as the home fans chanted ‘Bruno, Bruno’ in his honour, showing they are behind him as well.
Marcus Rashford, Antony and Wout Weghorst were also on the scoresheet as United put themselves in a strong position to reach the last eight when the tie is concluded in Seville next week.
But Ten Hag knows one win alone will not banish the memory of Sunday’s annihilation at Anfield, especially as he had been irritated by some of his side’s performances preceding it, including the Carabao Cup final victory against Newcastle.
“We don’t ignore it,” he said. “We made mistakes and we got hammered. We showed complacency and you can never do that in top football.
“In the weeks before, I was not happy against Newcastle and the performance against Leicester in the first half, but sometimes you have to get the bad result where everyone opens their eyes.”