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Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City – who’s more important?

Bruno Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne are star performers for Manchester United and Manchester City, respectively – but who’s more influential for their team? We crunch the numbers…

The midfield maestros will face off at Old Trafford on Saturday in the first Manchester derby this season, live on Sky Sports – but which club depends on their talisman most and who will steal the show this weekend?

Pep Guardiola’s side go into the weekend with momentum after securing qualification from their Champions League group and winning back-to-back league games with clean sheets.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

Man Utd vs Man City

December 12, 2020, 5:00pm

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In contrast, United crashed out of Europe’s elite competition and slipped into the Europa League after a 3-2 defeat to RB Leipzig, following mediocre displays to overcome deficits and beat West Ham and Southampton in recent weeks.

But the Premier League top table remains wide open. Both teams have a game in hand and United lead City by a solitary position and point – with the clubs just five and six points adrift from league-leaders Tottenham, respectively.

So the stage is set for Fernandes or De Bruyne to buck or maintain their clubs’ recent fortunes – but which has the greatest influence to do so?

Who leads in the stats?

The Power Rankings, which rank Premier League players on 35 matchday metrics, suggest Fernandes is leading the way at No 7 in the league – compared with De Bruyne at No 29, after an uncustomary slower start to the season.

Fernandes has played 53 league minutes more than De Bruyne and his crucial influence was epitomised once again when he proved to be the comeback catalyst as a second-half substitute against the Hammers.

De Bruyne was peppering Alphonse Areola’s goal against Fulham – perhaps conscious his two league goals this term have come from 12 yards. In contrast, Fernandes has netted four from open play and converted three penalties.

Both players primarily patrol the width of the pitch midway inside the opposition half, but Fernandes tends to also drop deeper and attempt more passes than his counterpart – despite United averaging far fewer passes than City as a team.

But De Bruyne leads the way with six assists, having recorded a league-topping 20 last term en-route to scooping the PFA Player of the Year award and ranks behind only Harry Kane for teeing up team-mates this season.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

The radar graphics below shows how both players compare with attacking midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues this season, revealing both rank in the top five per cent for passes completed, assists and big chances created.

But Fernandes also ranks among the elite for goals and shots on target. De Bruyne lags behind on those metrics, propped up with his two spot-kicks, but surpasses his counterpart for ball recoveries and attempted dribbles.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

What about goal threat?

Fernandes is yet to score one of his 18 shots from outside the box in the Premier League this season, but it’s a different story inside the penalty area – scoring seven of his 12 shots, including three converted penalties from four attempts.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

De Bruyne has only managed to hit the target four times from 17 attempts on goal inside the opposition box, including three penalty attempts – while many of his efforts from range have also been wayward.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

All about assists?

The lines in the graphic below show the paths of every pass that led to a chance at goal, revealing how Fernandes loves to play raking balls from deep, left-of-centre areas, notching two assists from that delivery this term – in addition to frequently finding team-mates from right-sided corners.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

Fernandes looks to unleash the wide forward from deep, as he did here, launching a long ball to assist Marcus Rashford against Newcastle

Fernandes looks to unleash the wide forward from deep, as he did here, launching a long ball to assist Marcus Rashford against Newcastle

As for De Bruyne, he often delivers the killer pass from right-of-centre areas and has also recorded two assists from this favoured zone. Notably, he has created seven chances fewer than Fernandes, but, crucially, he has recorded two more assists – suggesting the quality of his chances have been superior.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

De Bruyne enjoys a lot of success when he drops into pockets in centre-right areas, as he did here, assisting Benjamin Mendy against Burnley

De Bruyne enjoys a lot of success when he drops into pockets in centre-right areas, as he did here, assisting Benjamin Mendy against Burnley

How does their distribution compare?

The graphic below shows how Fernandes attempts passes across the width of the pitch in the opposition half, with an increasing concentration towards the left side.

In addition, the direction of his distribution is almost perfectly symmetrical, primarily passing forwards and rarely backwards – while his tendency to launch long balls reduces his passing accuracy.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

De Bruyne attempts passes in almost identical areas to Fernandes but the direction of his distribution is more sporadic – frequently looking to pass to his inside-right and, with fewer long passes attempted, registers a slightly higher level of passing accuracy.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

The graphic below emphasises how Fernandes attempts far more long balls – typically looking to unleash Marcus Rashford or Mason Greenwood behind defensive lines down the flanks.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

What about their defensive contributions?

As previously referenced, De Bruyne averages more ball recoveries per 90 than Fernandes – which means he collects more loose balls, with City among the top sides for pressing from the front.

But, in terms of all defensive actions, the United midfielder leads the way again with box-to-box effectiveness – whereas De Bruyne’s actions tend to be isolated down the left channel inside the opposition half.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

Influence since Bruno joined United?

Last season, Solskjaer’s side had a 37.5 per cent win rate without Fernandes in the team – which soared to 64.3 per cent with him in the starting XI. They simply score more goals, concede fewer and collect more points with the Portuguese playmaker in the heart of midfield.

But the same can be said of De Bruyne’s impact at City. The Belgian has missed eight league starts over the past two seasons and Guardiola’s win rate plummeted two-fold in those games – down from 70 per cent with him to 37.5 per cent without him.

So both clubs’ success appears to be almost halved when their midfield maestros are missing. However, Fernandes surpasses or matches De Bruyne across all key metrics since his league debut in February.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

Ok, so who’s more influential?

The stats suggest Fernandes has been more influential this season but both players are only 10 league games into the campaign and De Bruyne’s form is never far from peak levels – particularly when City appear to be finding their groove.

In terms of putting a figure on attacking influence, the chart below shows each club’s top player for goal involvement this season. Again, Fernandes is the runaway leader at United and has been involved in 58 per cent of team goals – a league-topping proportion for a midfielder.

The next midfielder on that list is Jack Grealish with 50 per cent, unless, of course, he is now classified as a forward – followed by De Bruyne himself on 47 per cent.

The Manchester derby arrives with heightened importance. United are bruised after their exit from the Champions League and rumours are circulating about Paul Pogba’s future again. A convincing win this weekend would help quieten the discord.

In contrast, City have a fit-again Sergio Aguero and appear to be on the charge back to their very best. Victory on Saturday would maintain that momentum and catapult them further into the upper rungs.

But the only convincing prediction would be that Fernandes or De Bruyne will probably determine the outcome.

Bruno Fernandes for Man Utd or Kevin De Bruyne for Man City - who's more important?

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