Man Utd wanted Grealish ahead of Bruno Fernandes – How do they compare?

Paul Macdonald
Paul Macdonald Updated: 20 May 2021 11:26 BST 4 min read
Man Utd wanted Grealish ahead of Bruno Fernandes – How do they compare?

It’s been just over a year since Bruno Fernandes arrived at Old Trafford, only eight days after they were humiliated on home soil by Burnley, and in that time Jack Grealish has flourished into a maverick talent, too.

Man Utd’s transformation since then has been remarkable, and it is largely thanks to the Portuguese midfielder.

The Red Devils were fifth in the Premier League standings, 36 points behind arch-rivals Liverpool when Fernandes agreed to join the rebuilding process at the 20-time English champions. Now they are second, three points better off than the Anfield outfit.

However, according to ESPN, the 26-year-old wasn’t Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s primary transfer target 12 months ago. The Norwegian boss reportedly asked executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and chief negotiator Matt Judge to secure the services of Aston Villa’s Jack Grealish, and when they were rebuffed by the Midlands side, they moved for the former Sporting Lisbon man.

While Fernandes was an instant hit in Manchester, Grealish struggled with his form towards the end of the 2019/20 campaign before hitting the opener in a final day draw with West Ham, securing his boyhood club’s Premier League status for another season.

Since then, though, the Englishman has gone from strength to strength. His rapid development has fired the Villans to within European qualification contention and has earned himself three England caps in the process.

Although no Man Utd fan would question the purchase of their No.18, we’ve taken a look at their numbers over the last year to see whether Solskjaer’s side secured the right man.

Since making his United debut, Fernandes has found the back of the net on 28 occasions in all competitions – more than any other Premier League player. He’s not just a goalscorer, though, and has also laid on 17 assists for his teammates in that period, meaning his goal involvement total of 45 is better than any other player in the English top flight over the last year.

Grealish’s figures are severely hampered in this respect, given he only managed one goal and one assist in the second half of the 2019/20 season. When comparing the current campaign it’s a much closer contest. The Villa captain has already notched up five league goals and eight assists, meaning he trails Fernandes’ tally of 11 goals and seven assists, having played fewer games than the Portugal international.

Premier League

When digging a little deeper, it is clear that Grealish is deserving of the credit and adulation that he is currently receiving. Fernandes is a world-class operator. Only Robert Lewandowski, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have more goal involvements in Europe’s top five leagues since he made his £47.5m to England, and yet Villa’s academy graduate is producing figures on a similar level to United’s star man.

Due to their slightly differing roles, it is no surprise to see some different trends between the two players’ output. Grealish is often deployed on the left-hand side, while Fernandes starts centrally. This may explain why the United man has more touches in the attacking third per 90, 38.1 to Grealish’s 34.1, and also completes more passes per 90 with 48.6 to 36.9.

But they are both tasked with providing the main source of creativity and end product to their respective teams. Fernandes leads the way on Expected Goals per 90 this season with a ridiculously healthy 0.50, whereas Grealish lags behind on 0.22. Their Expected Assists tallies are even with 0.40 apiece, indicating their exceptional ability to open up the opposition.

Where Grealish does have the edge over Fernandes in touches in the penalty area, and perhaps most interestingly, shot-creating actions per 90. The 25-year-old creates 6.73 shots compared to Fernandes’ 5.44.

So while it seems United bagged themselves the better man last January, both are producing magnificent displays and have a different set of skills that sets them apart from the rest. Nobody will bemoan Solskjaer and Woodward missing out on Grealish given the success that Fernandes has yet, but it’s likely the Villa man would have had a similar effect had he made the move to Old Trafford instead.

Output in 2020/21 per 90FernandesGrealish
Expected Goals0.500.22
Expected Assists0.400.40
Touches in attacking 1/338.134.1
Touches in the penalty area3.488.33
Shot-creating actions5.446.73
Passes completed48.636.9

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