Casemiro, Eriksen and Fernandes have won 15 and drawn two of the 17 games they’ve started together. If Man Utd had them more than a third of the time…
“With Bruno, I think we would be all over the place and us two together in midfield would be an absolute disaster!” suggested Paul Scholes, who added that Christian Eriksen was similarly “brilliant but a little bit more like me and just worried about the attacking side of things”.
Given the decision of who he would prefer to play alongside out of Fernandes, Eriksen and Casemiro, the Man Utd legend’s choice was clear. “If me and Christian or Bruno played together, it could be 6-6 or 7-6. There could be any score. We’d concede a lot of goals but might score a few!” he said.
With an uncanny commitment to the tactical requirements of this entirely theoretical partnership, Scholes cited the “added security” of Casemiro as a swaying factor.
Erik ten Hag must be thrilled to have his pick of the whole bunch. With the classy coverage of Casemiro, the inspiring invention of Fernandes and the tremendous technique of Eriksen, Man Utd finally have an engine worthy of envious glances from their rivals.
“I think the balance in the midfield was good with Casemiro, Eriksen and Bruno,” Ten Hag said earlier this week, before that trio extended their unbeaten run when starting together to 17 games – 15 wins – with victory at Nottingham Forest.
In a campaign which could yet extend to 65 matches, it is worth wondering what more they could have accomplished with their best midfield available for more than one-third of it.
This was not total domination; Forest had their chances. Taiwo Awoniyi snatched at the couple he did not leather 20 yards ahead of himself with a heavy touch. The hosts provided a latent threat from set-pieces. Harry Maguire avoided the concession of a penalty with an awkward looking header onto his own arm during another joyously unconvincing clean sheet.
Antony earned his goal and assist in another improved performance and Anthony Martial led the line well. But everything else was a sideshow to the unified artistry of Fernandes and Eriksen. Their control on this game was irresistible and absolute. They had eight shots and created nine chances between them, with Keylor Navas ruining the crowning moment with a stunning second-half save to tip the Portuguese’s effort onto the bar.
McFred have their uses both as a combination and individuals, but there are levels to this game and, with Casemiro patrolling behind, Eriksen and Fernandes can operate at the highest.
That they did at the City Ground on such short notice, Marcel Sabitzer withdrawing from the starting line-up due to injury and necessitating Eriksen’s promotion to the starting line-up, as well as a change to Fernandes’ role, made their respective displays all the more impressive.
“That could be the midfield that challenges for the league title the next couple of years,” was the assessment from Scholes in March, albeit with pluralised defensive concerns “when you’re playing against your Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s especially”. Ten Hag and Man Utd need a new approach in that calibre of away game especially – Casemiro, Eriksen and Fernandes all started the win over Pep Guardiola’s side at Old Trafford in January – but they have unlocked a veritable cheat code that the majority of the league will have no answer to.