Don't miss this epic Q&A with Fernandes
Bruno Fernandes says he and his Manchester United team-mates must focus on rediscovering the form we showed that got us to the top of the table earlier in the season, as the Reds look to put pressure on league leaders Manchester City in today's big derby clash.
The Reds have been left frustrated of late with more draws than wins in the league, while the Blues have stretched their winning run at the top of the Premier League.
The two sides meet at the Etihad this afternoon and, ahead of the match, Bruno spoke to us about a range of different topics, including United's approach today, during a typically engrossing interview...
Firstly Bruno, how’s everyone feeling ahead of today’s game? Derby matches are always games to be excited about aren’t they…
“Everyone is looking forward to it after a draw where we should have won that game [against Crystal Palace] and done much better and created much more. We don’t create enough chances, but at the same time we can do much better and there’s no better game than this to show we are a better team than that.”
The manager has talked about the importance of keeping up the pressure at the top of the table and maintaining the strong position we have. Presumably that is the players’ focus as well?
“I think it’s important. Everyone has to understand between us that the chances are there. We know that they are reduced now because we drew twice [last week] and City are not dropping points. The only way for them to drop points at the moment is in the next game playing against us and we have to have that on our minds and understand we have a chance to close the gap. At the same time we have to think that we have to perform better and do much better than we did before and also improve and restart to play like we played some months ago. We need to take some pressure away – the pressure is from the team we play for and it’s not about the pressure the media can put on or someone else outside of the club can put on. We have to put pressure on ourselves and understand we are playing for a big club and, at the same time, we have to understand that this is a privilege for us playing for such a big team and the chance we now have in this moment.”
How do you go about turning these draws into wins and how important is it to block out anything being said outside the club?
“Between us we have to listen to what we all say inside the group and inside the club. Everyone outside the club has a different opinion of what they think, but honestly we have to remember that at the beginning of the season nobody backed Manchester United to be second at this moment. We have to think what we said at the beginning of the season between us and not what other people were saying then and what they are saying now. We have to understand the goals we want to achieve. Only us as a team know what we said at the beginning of the season and we know between us what we want to do at the end of the season. So the voices we have to listen to have to be the voices inside of the group.”
This is your first Etihad derby. You’ve experienced a couple of Manchester derbies so far – have you felt a different type of edge to these games?
“I think everyone knows we always enjoy to play in these kinds of games, but honestly we enjoy them more when the fans are here because the atmosphere is much better. Of course you know these kinds of games are hard to play, but at the same time enjoyable. So you have to enjoy them and be yourself and do your best to help the team and hopefully win the game. This is the most important thing for us, to win the game. We must try to rebuild our future in the same way we were doing some months ago because we know we have had some ups and downs in the last two months, but at the same time two games ago everyone was talking about Man United making some good stuff. If we win against City everyone will forget the past against Chelsea and Crystal Palace because football is like that. The only thing we have to know is between us, as I said before, and we can’t forget what we want and the mistakes we have made and we can’t forget the good things we were doing. We just have to improve on the stuff we are not doing really well and try to make things better, enjoy the game and be ourselves.”
What will be the key to beating City given the way they like to play?
“We know it’s always difficult to play against City; we have to do everything good, almost perfection I think. The idea of the football they play is easy to understand but it’s difficult to play against. Everyone understands the way they play, they want to have the ball, they want to put pressure on and when they lose it they try to win it straight away. Everyone knows that, but it’s difficult to play against and difficult to win the ball and have some possession for a long time against them. But I think we have to understand what we can do against that type of game and what we can do better to win the game. We all know it’s difficult for us, but it will be difficult them in the same way.”
You’ll be up against some familiar faces in Ruben Dias, Joao Cancelo and Bernardo Silva – your Portuguese team-mates. Will there be an extra determination from you to get one over on them and have you spoken to them?
“I speak with them regularly, we have a good relationship. But the relationships stay out of the game. They know me and they know that on the pitch we are not friends anymore! [Smiles] At the same time I enjoy seeing them play and every one of them is doing well individually and I’m happy for them. As a team I was hoping to see them do a little bit worse than they are doing, but individually I am happy for them because they are good people and they deserve to be in the positions they are and playing in the way they are playing.”
How do we overcome fatigue at this stage of the season and keep fresh? As well as focusing on the work you need to do on the training pitch, how important is rest and recovery and switching off mentally between games?
“I think at the moment for us the most important thing is to clear our heads. We know the pressure we have outside of the club because it’s the biggest club in England. It’s also the most loved club in England and the most hated club in England, you know what I mean. We have a lot of fans but in the same way the other fans can’t like United because of what we’ve done in the past and the story the club has. That’s normal. For us though, it’s time to clear our heads and understand what we can achieve and what we want to achieve. We know that starts from this game, simply because it’s the next one.”
Luke Shaw has picked up the Player of the Month award for February – what would you say about the form he’s been in this season?
“I think Luke deserves it. He’s been playing really, really well in the last few months. I think he started a little bit slow like everyone did because at the beginning of the season we didn’t start good. I think the competition between Alex [Telles] and Luke has given both of them the chances to be better and to improve. This is really important because you know if you are not performing well you will be out of the team. I think Luke started to perform well when he had that pressure from Alex. At the same time, Alex when he plays has played really well because he knows that Luke is on the bench. So the pressure between them is good but the relationship between them is better, I have seen that in the stands. Alex is always pushing to help everyone and I remember when I came off against [Real] Sociedad it was Luke in the stands and I saw a lot of times Luke pushing to help Alex.
“This is what we’re about. You can be fighting for the same place, but you are fighting for the same achievements, you know. This has to be like that in every position in the team, we have to understand that whoever is playing it’s because the manager thinks he’s better for the team in that moment and the most important thing is the team. I think everyone is happy for Luke to win this Player of the Month award and I’m happy too because he deserves it and I hope he can continue this form until the end of the season because he knows Alex is there to take his position. It’s the same for me, if I don’t perform I know there are some players who will take my position and this is important for everyone to understand. Everyone deserves a chance and when you play you have to perform well and do your best because someone is on the bench because of you.”
As you mentioned earlier sadly the fans can’t be in the stadium today, but have you felt their support ahead of this game, via social media, and will they be on your mind when you step out there today?
“I think everyone knows derbies are much better with the fans because the atmosphere would be better. Normally sometimes in derbies there is a little bit of pressure also between the fans because they know one of them could lose and they are worried about what might happen at the end of the game and we all know the jokes they make between each other in the same way we do! [Smiles] I hope we can win the game for our fans because they deserve it and they are supporting us a lot. I want to give them thanks, but at the same time tell them to keep pushing to help the team and keep believing in the team. I think at the beginning of the season it was difficult maybe for them to think we could be in this position at this time of the season. Everyone wants to win – we want to win the league, we want to win the Europa League, we want to win the FA Cup and I want to say to the fans to keep that trust in us and keep pushing to help everyone in the team, not just A, B, C, but push every player and give the same support to everyone because everyone needs that support.”