Bruno Fernandes has shrugged off comparisons with Eric Cantona and is focusing solely on Manchester United’s Europa League challenge, which continues with Sunday’s semi-final against Sevilla.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side face opponents unbeaten in 19 games, having last lost in early February, 2-1 to Celta Vigo, and who knocked out English opposition to reach this stage, edging out Wolves 1-0 with a late goal. United required extra time to knock out FC Copenhagen in their quarter-final, with Fernandes’s decisive 95th-minute penalty his 11th goal since joining in January in an initial £46m deal from Sporting Lisbon.
The Portuguese proved the catalyst in United’s third-place Premier League finish and run to the FA Cup semi-finals, an impact that has drawn the view he is United’s most important signing since Cantona left Leeds for Old Trafford in November 1992, inspiring his new team to four league titles and two FA Cups over the next five years. Fernandes was asked about this. “For me it’s really good to listen [to people] talking about these kinds of names but really for me, Cantona was an amazing player for the club and I need to do much better to be compared with him,” he said. “Cantona won many trophies at United and I will be happy this season if we win the Europa League.”
Fernandes believes his experience of playing abroad and the faith United were showing with their investment helped him to make an immediate impact. “When a club pays €55m for a player you have confidence. I played already in Italy [for Udinese and Sampdoria] so I know how it is to be out of my country, playing in different leagues. Also, of course, there is the support I had from the coach and my teammates. The coach all the time tells me to do what I did in Sporting, to try the same things, and try and improve. When you have this it becomes easier for you.
“I can’t say it was easy – the Premier League is completely different, but I have the confidence of coach, staff, teammates and things are going really well – we have good results, and I scored some goals.”
Solskjaer, meanwhile, is aware United will have to be more clinical against Julien Lopetegui’s side in Cologne than they were against Copenhagen, when they twice hit a post and spurned other chances. “They are a good team, who press well, with very good individuals,” the Norwegian said of Sevilla. “We have to play our best game, keep the ball when we can, play out of their press. We have to be clever, creative and step up in big moments: the last pass, and the finish.”
In Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Anthony Martial United had a pacy attack but Solskjær wants an all-round team display. He said: “We have some quick players up front, we want to be direct and positive in our football, but these are not our only qualities. When teams drop [possession] we have to create chances this way – on the counter as well as in established play.”
Temperatures are predicted to exceed 30C, similar to Monday’s quarter-final. Yet Solskjær is not concerned about his players’ fitness. “We’ve had a few good days now preparing and recovering,” he said. “It is not very often we have six days between games, so we’re ready: physically, definitely ready, mentally the boys will be ready.
“You know that when you come to a semi-final you’re playing against big teams with quality. It’s time to step up for big game players, 100% focus, as any little moment can win, lose or change a game. These games will be decided so often on a piece of individual brilliance.”
Solskjær, who has no fresh injury concerns, and urged his team to seize their chance of a final against the winner of Monday’s semi-final between Shakhtar Donetsk and Internazionale. “It is a semi-final – everyone will want to take part,” the manager said. “I just want them to enjoy it, for me I’m looking forward to it too. But, we want to go one step further.”
Lopetegui has Nemanja Gudelj back, after the experienced Serbia midfielder tested positive for coronavirus in July. “It was difficult but I was good, training at home,” he told the club website. “I knew that I could test negative at any moment and I had to be ready to help the team.”