Bruno Fernandes says priority will be on keeping Man City out in Manchester derby; Portuguese also discusses his form and why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer deserves more credit. Watch Man Utd vs Man City live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am on Saturday; kick-off 12.30am.
Saturday 6 November 2021 12:37, UK
Bruno Fernandes says Manchester United's main focus in the lead up to their derby clash with Manchester City has been to get their defending right, so their creative players can win the crucial clash at Old Trafford on Saturday.
It will be the first time United have played at home since they were thrashed 5-0 by rivals Liverpool there two weeks ago.
While the Portuguese playmaker insists that result won't impact this weekend's match, he revealed a dressing room exchange after losing to Liverpool has forced the focus of the squad onto keeping opposition sides out.
They successfully did that with a switch to a back three securing a clean sheet at Tottenham on Saturday, but United then let in two at Atalanta in the Champions League in midweek, and Fernandes says they can't afford to make similar mistakes against City.
"It doesn't mean anything for us, what was in the past. The result against Liverpool, Tottenham or Atalanta will serve for nothing in this one, because it's a completely different team - a completely different way to play," Fernandes told Sky Sports.
"It's a particular game where any moment can change. You can prepare the way you want but the individual has to do something special in this kind of game. For our side, the City side, you can solve these games on a player making a good thing.
'Don't concede goals' is the main point for us because we know we have goals in the squad and players who can score. If we don't concede we will score at any moment.
"For us it is, 'stick to the plan', defend well. 'Don't concede goals' is the main point for us because we know we have goals in the squad and players who can score. If we don't concede, we will score at any moment.
"The main point for us is to defend well as a team. We proposed to everyone in the dressing room after that defeat against Liverpool that we cannot concede so many goals. David de Gea has been brilliant for us, making many, many saves and still we conceded a lot of goals in many, many games.
"We have to protect him and everyone has to protect the ones behind: the forwards have to protect the midfielders, the midfielders protect the defenders, and the defenders protect the goalkeeper. At the end we will protect ourselves from conceding goals and the quality we have on the team, at any moment we can score goals and we will."
United have already conceded more than a third of the goals they let in last season in the Premier League, with the opposition scoring at least twice in four of their last four games across all competitions.
Fernandes says the squad must cut out the mistakes which are causing them those problems in defence.
"It's difficult to explain why that's happened. We have basically the same defenders as last season, with Raphael Varane," said Fernandes.
"Sometimes if you lose your focus for any moment you have to understand that it doesn't matter how much you cost, how much you earn, every team has qualities to hurt you.
"Against Leicester we conceded two goals when we tried to win the game. We made that mistake. Against Liverpool it's hard to explain what's happened in that game but we did mistakes in that game too. Most of the time it is coming from us doing mistakes or not defending the way we should that we concede goals.
"This comes from everyone, from the striker to the goalkeeper. We all have to be a little bit more compact, try to close the gaps because it's happening many times. We've learned from that. We did a clean sheet against Tottenham, against Atalanta was not as good. But still we know we have to improve and we will."
If United do get their defending right on Saturday, they'll be looking to the likes of Fernandes to create and score at the other end.
Fernandes finished with 18 goals in the Premier League last season but after an opening-weekend hat-trick against Leeds and strike against Newcastle in early September, he hasn't found the net in the top flight since.
He is convinced there is no major tactical reason for this, suggesting opposition defences are now more prepared for him, but points to his six assists in his last seven games across all competitions to demonstrate he is performing well and, importantly, creating a lot of opportunities for his team-mates.
"I'm not scoring goals because I'm missing the goal! It's easy like that," he says, laughing.
"The way we played in the last two games, I've played a little deeper, yeah, but it's because we changed system and you have to adapt. Everyone was adapting themselves. We have to do what is better for the team.
"I can still do my game wherever I play. I know people are upset because the numbers are going a little bit low - goals are going low but assists are coming up.
"The importance for people of scoring goals is always better than doing assists or a great game. Last season everyone was like, 'he's scored a lot of goals but he also scores a lot of penalties and he doesn't perform'. Now I perform and give a lot of assists and people say 'he's not scoring goals'. There will always be a problem.
"I'm never happy with myself. I want always to improve and do better. Every season I want to do better numbers than before. Playing more games, playing better balls, more assists, more goals.
"I still want to score goals and to score more goals than last season and I will do my best to reach that level. But it is what it is sometimes.
"The teams know me better and I don't get the space I got in the beginning because I was someone coming from Portugal and most players didn't know who Bruno is. Now the space is a little bit short for me, the time is a little bit short and I have to improve on that to be quick on shooting and passing and everything to make my game work."
Reflecting on the pressure Solskjaer and United have been under in recent weeks, Fernandes is quick to back his manager, for whom he has been a key figure since joining the club in January 2020.
The 27-year-old says the Norwegian's improvement of the side is underappreciated and criticism of United's tactical set-up, for instance, is too simplistic.
However, he accepts the team must find a way to improve their record at Old Trafford if they're to achieve their aims this season.
"He brought me to the club, he gave me the chance to play in this amazing club, he made my dream come true, he is a great person and everyone knows the human part of him," Fernandes said of Solskjaer.
"It's normal people get upset because the results don't come but it's too easy to blame only the coach. We go on the pitch, we should do better.
"We could say the system is not good enough but we played 4-2-3-1 for three years. We get to some finals. We don't win the finals, I understand that, but we got to second place last season and no one was expecting us to do a really good season as we did. It was not as good as we want but it was a good season overall after what everyone was thinking.
"If we didn't drop those points in January, February we could have been much closer to City. There has been a big improvement in the team, big improvement in the club since he arrived and I think he deserves credit.
"I think he's capable to do more and us as a team are capable to do more. That doesn't depend only on the coach. We have to try to help him because he is trying to help us.
"If we look at last season, at this point we have more points than last season, so that's not so bad. It's not what we want, of course, and we dropped points against Everton, Aston Villa, and Liverpool at home.
"Last season it was a problem at home, we started the season really well at home to Leeds and Newcastle and in the Champions League too. But we're still dropping points at home and we know that. It's not only the coach's fault."
The coach could certainly do with a home win this weekend.
City pose a different threat to Liverpool but despite some outstanding performances, the defending champions are in reach of United, just three points ahead of their local rivals in the table.
United must seize the opportunity to close the gap, says Fernandes.
"They have different ways to play. Liverpool is a quick attack, they have really good pressure, and they want to attack a little bit quicker. City is more controlled, they have more of the ball, they can attack quick also when they recover the ball, their transitions are really good," he explains.
"We have to be careful when we recover the ball because they counter-press strong. Both coaches have different ways to think of football. Both of them play really good football and we know it will be hard and we have to do our game and understand where we can hurt them.
"We have a chance now to close the gap with City already and if someone drops points in front of us we can also close that gap and that is the most important for us, winning the game, to try to be as close as possible to the front teams."
Getting to the front will depend on how well United perform at the back. And all eyes will be on whether Solskjaer's side can produce the defensive performance Fernandes says they're aiming for this weekend when they aim to banish those memories of their last appearance at Old Trafford.
Peter Smith is joined by Sky Sports football journalists Richard Morgan and Ben Grounds to discuss the huge Saturday lunchtime showdown between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford.
PART 1 | How are the two rivals shaping up for the big clash? We weigh up how Man Utd's injury concerns in defence could affect their approach, while we ask whether Jack Grealish is living up to his big price tag and the reasons behind some inconsistent form from the defending champions. Is this match now a must-win for them with Chelsea pulling clear at the top of the Premier League?
PART 2 | Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a winning record against Pep Guardiola so what's the secret to his success in this rivalry? And how will the clash go on Saturday? We make our big match predictions!
Manchester United host Manchester City in the first Manchester derby of the season on Saturday - and you can follow all of the action live on Sky Sports.
Manchester United vs Manchester City will be broadcast live on Sky Sports Premier League from 11.30am; kick-off at 12.30pm.
Sky Sports customers can watch in-game clips in our dedicated live match blog on the Sky Sports website and app.
Free match highlights will also be published on the Sky Sports digital platforms and the Sky Sports Football YouTube channel before 2.45pm on Saturday.