Bruno on Atalanta, strikers and Ballon d'Or
Bruno Fernandes was delighted to play an important role in helping get Manchester United back to winning ways last Saturday at Tottenham with an assist and important interception for our second goal, but never one to rest on his laurels, our no.18 is fully focused on making sure the Reds build on the 3-0 win in north London and further strengthen our position in the Champions League, when we take on Atalanta on Tuesday night.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men sealed a memorable come-from-behind victory over the Italian side last month at Old Trafford to claim top spot in Group F on six points.
Things remain very tight across all four teams in the group - Villarreal sit level with Atalanta on four points, while bottom-placed Young Boys are on three. With two home wins under our belt, the Reds are looking to claim a first away victory of this season's European campaign against a side Bruno is fully familiar with, having faced them during his time with Udinese.
We sat down with our Portuguese magnifico to look ahead to our latest test against Atalanta and also asked him about the form of our strikers and his feelings on being nominated for the prestigious Ballon d'Or...
Firstly Bruno, Ole and the players talked about the importance of a response against Spurs, how important is it now to maintain that level ahead of another big Champions League game?
"Really important. We have to forget what we did against Tottenham because it’s a different competition, a completely different game and a different opponent with different ways to play. We have to be careful because we saw what they did against us at Old Trafford. In the first half, they came with great personality and great quality. They were intense and at [their] home we expect that also. We know what we have to do, it’s about doing the same job we did against Tottenham in terms of the mentality and the belief and the running… everything we did. And then we have to put our qualities into this game again."
What was more satisfying on Saturday - delivering the perfect ball to Cristiano or watching his finish?
"[Smiles] The ball is good, but obviously that finish was perfect. It was really difficult to finish on the first touch, with not much space to hit the target in the way he did. It’s always nice to see someone score and, obviously, I was really happy for my pass. But more happy for the goal because if the pass goes through and the striker doesn’t score, then it will never be a good pass! So I’m really happy that he scored and we won the game, that’s the most important thing."
How pleasing was it to see Edi open his account for the season and Marcus and Cristiano add further to their tallies? You must have been pleased with your assist for the first goal and involvement in second one?
"Of course. As I said before, the belief with everything was perfect. In that moment, I trusted I could take the ball from the defender, I went with everything and recovered the ball and, after, I just tried to pass the ball to Cristiano. It was a great pass from him and an amazing finish from Edi and we are really happy for Edi. He deserved his goal, he’s one of those players who gives everything on the pitch every time he plays, he’s always at the top level and I’m really happy for him. Rashy, of course, has had a difficult summer because of his shoulder injury and, for a long time, he was trying to help us and help us with a lot of pain. Of course, he has had time to recover and he has started really strongly, I think he’s got something like four [note: three] goals in four games [since he came back]. I’m really happy for him because he’s a nice kid and he deserves it. He suffered a lot in the past [with his injury] which people didn’t know about and it’s time for him to get the credit he deserves."
David, Marcus and Cristiano have been nominated for our Player of the Month award. Who would get your vote?
"It’s difficult because Cristiano has been scoring goals, important goals, Rashy, the same. David has conceded goals so it’s difficult but if it wasn’t for David, we would have conceded many more. For what he has done in the last month and has been doing since the start of the season I think he deserves it. But obviously we know the power of people who score goals, so, if I would vote, I would vote for David this time. As I said, it’s a difficult one because Cristiano has scored important goals and Rashy. It’s hard for the fans [to vote], but my vote is for David."
It was obviously a dramatic last game against Atalanta – what learnings did you take from that match in terms of what you saw from them and you obviously know them well from your time in Italy?
"As I said before, they are really intense and you maybe don’t expect Atalanta to come to Old Trafford in the Champions League and play so high, but that’s the way they play and the way they want to play. It doesn’t matter if they lose or not and I like that about their style. They don’t look at anyone, they have their own jobs to do and they do it. That’s the most important thing for a team. And, as I said before, Atalanta for me, in the past few years, is the team that deserves all the credit. They believe in the coach and in the players and they have done well to keep them and trust them. If you go back five years and you’d have said Atalanta would be in the Champions League so many times and in the quarter-finals against PSG. Some people would have said no, but they are there and they are fighting again to be in the Champions League and trying to go through in the group."
Is the spirit and the quality we saw from us in the second half of that game at Old Trafford exactly what you want to see again on Tuesday night?
"Of course. We have to learn from that game what we did wrong. In the first half, we gave them two or three chances where they scored. We created some chances in the first half, but, as I said after the game, probably the last pass from me doesn’t come off. But in the second half, the passes came off and the finishes were good and everything went through for us."
The double-header in the middle of the group stages is always a key time in the match schedule - we’re in a strong position at the top of Group F so how determined is everyone to maintain that?
"Every game is important in the group. Obviously when you start getting towards the end of the group and it’s close for everyone, you know you have to win your own games because, if not, then they will catch you. You have to go until the last game and not have to think about another team maybe losing [to help us]. We just have to think of ourselves and make a good step now."
Finally, how proud are you to be nominated for the Ballon d’Or?
"Of course, as a kid, you dream to be in the middle of the best. For me, being nominated for the Ballon d’Or, even if I know I will not win it, makes me feel really proud and for everyone who has been on this long journey [with me]. I’m just really happy for that."