The 24-year-old was Sporting’s best scorer (please let me remind you that he is a centre-midfielder), having scored 20 goals in Liga NOS and 32 goals in the whole season, as well as 12 assists overall. But one thing should be highlighted above all others: Bruno Fernandes broke the European record of the midfielder with most goals scored in one season, which was previously held by Frank Lampard who scored 27 goals for Chelsea in 2009/10.
Bruno’s numbers are incredible, and it is no wonder that he is one of the most coveted players in this summer’s transfer market.
Bruno Fernandes was raised in the first-tier Portuguese club Boavista, and at the age of 18 was transferred to Novara. In 2013, he moved to Udinese where he was able to demonstrate his full potential, having made 95 appearances in three seasons, scoring 11 goals. He then moved to Sampdoria in 2016/17, where he spent only one season, moving to Sporting in 2017/18.
In this article, I will cover his role in Sporting’s play, both in the defensive and attacking transitions, as well as approach his passing and shooting quality and his ability to create goal-opportunities for his teammates.
Defensive transition: is that a striker?
Bruno Fernandes is a centre-midfielder, but he is unquestionably more proficient playing a more attacking part in the team’s play. In his 2017/18 with Jorge Jesus, he played as a second forward most of the times. That didn’t happen with Marcel Keizer last season, at least not as evidently, as he would play more like a classic attacking midfielder, especially in the team’s attacking manoeuvre.
Nevertheless, when it comes to his positioning without the ball and in the defensive transition, Bruno Fernandes is one of the main participants in Sporting’s high-pressure mechanism, where the team shifts from a normal 4-3-3 to a 4-4-2 in plain sight, as Bruno moves up the field and plays side-by-side with the centre-forward. In such a moment, Bruno and the centre-forward are the first to make pressure mainly in the opposition centre-backs. If the opposite team manages to play through the first pressuring line, Bruno then quickly retreats to the midfield and compensates that area, so that his team does not face a situation of player inferiority.
Picture 1 – The opposite team is building up their attacking transition starting in the centre-backs. Bruno Fernandes moves up in the field and is the first to make pressure on the player that carries the ball, side-by-side with Sporting’s striker Luiz Phellype. In green we can see Bruno Fernandes, playing in line with Luiz Phellype. In blue we can see the line of four in the midfield, proper of a 4-4-2.
Picture 2 – Past that first pressure zone high up in the field, the opposite gets closer to the Sporting’s box. At this moment, Bruno Fernandes has already retreated to his initial position of centre-midfielder, completing the line of three in the midfield, granting more defensive security to the midfield and the team. This way, it is less likely that Sporting will be caught in a situation of inferiority close to their goal. In blue we can see the defence line and just slightly further up the midfield line, with Bruno Fernandes on the right side.
Picture 3 – This is another example of the 4-4-2 in which Sporting turns into when the adversary is in the initial stage of its attacking build-up. Bruno Fernandes (in green) acting as a true centre-forward, pressuring high up the pitch, as well as the actual centre-forward Bas Dost. Again, a line of four is formed in the midfield (in blue). This is of course due to the strategy of the team itself, but Bruno Fernandes does play this part very well.
Picture 4 – A quick attacking transition from the opposite team obliges Bruno Fernandes to retreat rapidly to rebalance the midfield and the defence, to allow Sporting to have superiority of players in the danger area. Bruno Fernandes (in green) is the most defensively positioned player after the defence line (in blue).
Attacking transition: the three-eyed ‘maestro’
When it comes to the attacking transition, things go a bit different. Bruno does not assume a role of second forward in the team’s tactics, instead, he plays along with the team’s other two centre-midfielders, composing the midfield triangle that is present in every classic 4-3-3.
The midfield triangle requires the three centre-midfielders to create an automatic and fluid dynamics between them all, and so sometimes we will see Bruno playing closer to the forwards, and other times he will be acting as a true defensive-midfielder that approaches the centre-backs or full-backs to collect the ball and start the team’s attacking movement.
But there is one idea that we must retain: the whole Sporting attacking transition is defined and organised by Bruno Fernandes. He may sometimes be away from the ball and back-to-back with the forwards, but he always is the main reference in the attacking transition and the whole Sporting’s play is defined by Bruno.
He is a perfect playmaker. Not only is he technically overwhelming, but he plays simple, effectively and decides very quickly. That is one feature that every centre-midfielder who wants to achieve greatness must possess, an ability to decide well and quickly.
More often than not, we witness Bruno receiving the ball and then passing it to a teammate that was completely outside his field of vision, in a heartbeat. This is due to a perfect capacity to look across the whole field at every moment and to decide about what he is going to do just before he is passed the ball.
Whether the team is in the initial stage of the attacking transition or already closing up to the opposite goal, the whole play is commanded by Bruno’s geniality and accurate notion of positioning and space.
Picture 5 – Bruno Fernandes leads the offensive move of the team, driving the ball up the field and approaching the opposite goal. Amongst the three centre-midfielders (blue line) in Keizer’s 4-3-3, he is the one to whom is more often trusted the mission to lead the transition and to make the ultimate decision in the offensive processes.
Picture 6 – Bruno has the ball (in green). He drops to collect the ball, being the midfielder who can take the ball out of the pressure zone with quality and criteria. He is the main reference amongst the centre-midfielders (in blue) in the offensive process.
Picture 7 – Bruno receives the ball from a teammate in the offensive transition process. After being passed the ball, he immediately shifts the centre of the game and launches the right-winger with a perfectly executed long-pass, getting the team and the ball closer to the opposite goal.
Real Killer: decision-making quality and lethal execution
The tactical analysis is pretty much finished, having the main aspects been covered in the two chapters above. But Bruno Fernandes is so much more than just a tactically accurate player. He is a lethal goal-scorer of which lots of strikers around the world can and must be envious of.
Besides the on-game brilliant executions, he is especially amazing in dead-ball situations, having scored a lot of free-kicks and penalties.
Picture 8 – Proof of Bruno’s deadliness was this marvellous individual play of his. He moves to the right, almost acting as a right-winger and after being passed the ball he faces Grimaldo in a 1×1 situation. After dribbling through Grimaldo, he shoots with his left foot (his weakest) straight to the upper corner of the goal, scoring a beautiful goal.
Picture 9 – Bruno is not only a lethal scorer with both his feet. He has scored several goals with his head. In this case, Abdoulay Diaby crosses the ball from the right and Bruno, striker-like, dives and heads the ball towards the inside of the opposite goal.
Picture 10 – This is likely to be Bruno’s greatest speciality. He is an outstanding free-kick taker and has scored amazing goals this way. This was probably his best last season, at a 30 meters distance and right in the upper-corner, against Benfica, in the Portuguese Cup Semi-final.
Again, a centre-midfielder who scores 32 goals and makes 17 assists in one season is not a regular centre-midfielder. Here are some of Bruno Fernandes stats (Total and Average) that can enrich and illustrate this analysis:
It is indisputable that Bruno Fernandes is a goal-driven attacking midfielder, who is accurate and deadly when he has the ball. To score 0.53 goals per game is a stat you do not see in many forwards around Europe, let alone a centre-midfielder. He makes three shots per game, approximately half of which are successful, proving his shooting deadliness. He is not a great dribbler, but he is an aggressive player and that explains why he wins half his offensive duels and makes most recoveries in the opposite half of the field.
Otherwise many quality players in Liga NOS (because Liga NOS is filled with excellent footballers) Bruno has proven to have an amount of quality that surpasses most of them and I believe that is what makes him ready for a European club of the biggest dimension.
He is a temperamental player with a leader’s mentality, he is aggressive on the pitch, does not give up on any ball and, to top it all, he is formidable both technically and tactically, very often being decisive with the goals his scorers or the assists he makes.
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