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Ben Thornley: Fernandes like Man Utd icon Cantona; Mejbri hype; Why Gomes, Ramazani left

One of the things that has impressed me about Manchester United's return is how fit the lads look.

Let's take Nemanja Matic for example. He looks five years younger getting round the pitch than what we saw from him last season. We didn't really see him at all during the first half of the campaign and it looked like he was on his way out. But he got himself back into the team and this lockdown, as bad as it has been globally for everybody, the Manchester United lads have come back and looked fresh as daisies.

And that has gone hand in hand with the results and performances they've shown after the restart. With Chelsea losing against West Ham and Leicester struggling for form, it is only Wolves who have matched us recently.

It's going to be real battle for the next six games. United also have Chelsea in the FA Cup semi-final, and Frank Lampard's men will want to make sure they don't lose to United for a fourth time this season. Then the last game of the season, United travel to Leicester and Chelsea host Wolves. And I think with the way Leicester have started and obviously that Chelsea missed out on the chance to leapfrog them, I think the chasing pack are all eyeing third spot, not fourth, because of Leicester's poor start. United are in pole position, there is no question about that, because of the way they are performing and because who they've got left to play.

I think we've seen a turning point for United. After that March international break last season, they won only two from their last 11 and scuppered their chances of getting into the top-four. That's when all the doom-mongers amongst the supporters were saying that the job was too big for Ole. What really annoyed me about those criticisms earlier this season was that Frank Lampard was going through a similar stretch with Chelsea and nothing was mentioned about him.

All of a sudden there are two teams with two young, inexperienced managers that are still challenging for honours this season and to get into the top-four. It just goes to show that things don't happen at massive clubs overnight. You need to give your manager a bit of time. United have done that and Ole has done an absolutely outstanding job with his backroom staff, he has identified the players he thinks will strengthen in the United way. I was never in doubt of somebody that I knew as a player and that knew the club inside and out, and he has propelled Manchester United to the position that they are in and I'm so pleased that the hierarchy decided to stick with him when we were going through a little sticky spell because it is starting to pay-off and we're starting to look like a team, that with maybe one or two more additions, will be challenging next season.

I said last time City won the title that the rest of the teams would catch-up. Unfortunately for United fans it was Liverpool who overtook them. But I can assure you that won't happen next season. Ole is definitely going to push this team to catch those teams that are above them at the moment and I think next season they will be very, very close.


FERNANDES IMPACT

For me the team that Ole picked against Sheffield United and Brighton is our best team at the moment. Let's not forget that Paul Pogba had not been in the team for pretty much the entire season. Nemanja Matic was out of the side, and Fred and Scott McTominay came into the side and done really well. And I actually thought Fred was our most improved player. That's what you need in big clubs like Manchester United. You need to have that competition for places.

And the partnership that I can feel is only going to grow between Pogba and Fernandes you can see that they are on that pitch and enjoying themselves, they look for each other, they always find the right pass, they've got the energy levels. It is just a really, really exciting time. It must be an exciting time to be a United player and certainly when you see the way they played in those two league games, an exciting time to be a fan as well.

I suppose with his intelligence and the amount of time he has on the ball which he makes for himself, Fernandes reminds me of a Paul Scholes type player, in terms of his brain and everything going through him. I think with the impact that he's had there is only player that springs to mind and that is Eric Cantona.

I know Scholesy has said they are different players. And Cantona was a different player as well. But I think Bruno Fernandes is a combination of the two, with the intelligence and impact he has managed to have on the team in such a short space of time. He has been incredible, he has been involved in more goals in the last ten games than any other player in Europe. He helped United go on a 15 game unbeaten run and he is one player who I believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants the consistency and creativity from and therefore picks him every game, he is one person who is very, very reluctant to leave out. And it is no coincidence that United are in the hunt for two trophies and still a place in top-three or four.


MEJBRI HYPE IS REAL

Hannibal Mejbri is a very talented player. Obviously United paid money to bring him in from France and I've watched him numerous times. We are still waiting to hear if United's FA Youth Cup semi-final against Chelsea will go ahead. And Hannibal Mejbri will play a big part if United are going to go on and win that tournament. He is a little bit like Fernandes in that he does get himself into places where defenders are reluctant to come out and mark him. He takes a kick and he draws fouls as well and he can go either way. He is a very, very talented player.

I do think that sometimes his temperament needs to be curtailed a little bit. We like a fiery character, no doubt about that, but it's just knowing where to draw the line before you start getting told off by the referee and cards start coming out, and before it affects you on the pitch. If you're thinking too hard about remonstrating with the referee it's going to take away from what you're supposed to be doing on the pitch. So he just needs to get that balance right. We love a fiery character, we've had plenty at our club. Mejbri is definitely one, but he is also very, very talented.

Along with Teden Mengi, who looks like a solid centre-half, the two of them with one or two of the others, they've got a chance of lifting the FA Youth Cup. They knocked Chelsea out in the third round last year, a team who have dominated that competition. They've got as far in the competition as they have in the last seven years and I think that they can get themselves into the final and go on and win it.


DEPARTING PLAYERS

We touched on Angel Gomes in my last column and I said there was going to come a time when Angel needs to make a decision.

He was in the same position that I was in. His contract came to an end and the club obviously wanted to keep him, but he had ambitions to want to go and play, which you can completely understand when you are coming into your early 20's. The decision doesn't come as a surprise to me that he has opted to go and seek first-team football elsewhere.

He is a talented player but it has quickly become apparent in these opening four games that Gomes, along with Chong, Garner,and Levitt, admittedly they're a little bit younger, but they've not even appeared in the squad or on the bench, it's only really Greenwood and Williams, so that just shows what an uphill fight that they've got to break into the squad, let alone get into the team.

Largie Ramazani is another very talented player, but I'm not altogether certain that his attitude from time to time was not an issue for the coaching staff at Manchester United.

I can't be 100 per cent about what aspects, but there are always rumblings that come out of clubs and as talented as Largie is, and I've seen him play and score some wonderful goals, and he is good enough to play in United's first-team, his overall demeanour and attitude was what ultimately swayed the club to make that decision that he was going to leave.

Ben Thornley
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Ben Thornley

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