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Bruno Fernandes' uncharacteristic off day against Liverpool has led to calls for the Manchester United talisman to be rested against Fulham.
Fernandes has had a transformative effect on the Red Devils since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer signed him just under a year ago.
His arrival last January helped to spur an unbeaten run which lasted the remainder of the Premier League campaign, with United finishing third after a surge up the table.
He has continued his excellent form this season to inspire Solskjaer's side to the summit, with his 27 goals and 17 assists in 49 games highlighting just what he brings to the team.
But he was criticised after a below-par display in Sunday's 0-0 draw at Anfield – where the visitors failed to capitalise on Liverpool's current woes even if they did stay top of the table.
Bruno Fernandes was subbed at Anfield after a frustrating outing for the midfielder
(Image: Michael Regan/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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United will be back in pole position if they win at Fulham on Wednesday night, having been usurped by Chelsea's win over Leicester on Tuesday.
But there have been calls for Fernandes to be dropped from a Premier League line-up for just the second time – with many pointing out that the 26-year-old needs a rest after United's heavy reliance on his goals, creativity and dynamic displays in recent times.
One man to criticise Fernandes was United legend Roy Keane, who was scathing in his assessment of both the midfielder and Marcus Rashford after the game at Anfield.
"When I look at the couple of chances United have created, Rashford never turned up," Keane told Sky Sports.
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"Fernandes didn't play that well either, but they still created the two best chances of the game. Huge moments."
Fernandes' performances over the past year for United have led fans and pundits to compare him to greats such as Paul Scholes and Eric Cantona.
But Keane said earlier this month the Portuguese ace could not be revered so highly until he started producing in the big games.
In games against the rest of the 'big six' this season, Fernandes has scored just one goal – a penalty against Tottenham in a 6-1 defeat) – and has failed to register a single assist.
Fernandes has scored just one penalty in games against the big six this season
(Image: Getty Images)
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And some fans were quick to point that out on social media after the Liverpool game.
One account tweeted a picture of classic cartoon character Tweetie Pie, partly invisible while standing next to a pot of 'vanishing cream'.
A Manchester City fan tweeted a picture of Kevin de Bruyne, saying: "Until Bruno Fernandes has a good performance in a big game, don't even compare him to the best midfielder in world football."
And another supporter tweeted: "Another big game, another Bruno Fernandes stinker. Penalties and assists vs the bottom half of the league doesn't make you the best midfielder in England."
Rio Ferdinand defended Fernandes, describing him as 'phenomenal'
(Image: BT Sport)
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But Rio Ferdinand jumped to the defence of Fernandes, saying he has earned the right to have a bad day at the office after his incredible contribution for United over the past 12 months.
"They looked off but we’re top of the league so I always look at it like that," the former United defender told Stretford Paddock 's YouTube channel.
"Yeah, there might be players off form, but if you’re still nicking results and you’re still winning and you’re still in a healthy position, that’s not a bad thing.
"If we played this game and had zero shots on target and we looked like we had no threat at all, then I’d be a little bit concerned.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insists the United talisman doesn't need a rest
(Image: Carl Recine/POOL/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock)
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"But, listen, you can’t talk about [Bruno]. I wouldn’t say Bruno’s looked off recently. The geezer’s output has been phenomenal."
Fernandes was named the Premier League's player of the month for December – becoming the first player to win the award four times in a calendar year.
And Solskjaer defended his star man when asked if he would rest him against Fulham.
"His form is very good, he was just voted Player of the Month," the United manager pointed out.
A Fernandes free-kick whistled just wide at Anfield on Sunday
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"He’s not tired, no, no chance. He is one of the players that runs and covers the ground in every single game, he’s very good at recovering and recharging his batteries. "
Fernandes was just wide with a first-half free-kick at Anfield, and the manager said: "If he scored his free-kick or if it just had a little air on the ball when Luke put the cross in he'd have been lauded as best player in Premier League again.
"Since he’s come in, he's been absolutely immense. He’s not tired and if I ask him he'll say there's absolutely no chance that he's tired."
Solskjaer added: "He's expected to create goals, score goals and sometimes the margins are against him. That free kick, I saw that one in!
The midfielder in training ahead of Wednesday's trip to face Fulham
(Image: Manchester United via Getty Imag)
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"There were a couple of passes that he played through and it was marginal as to whether the player was on or off[side].
"So he’s always on the verge of creating something, even when he loses the ball, and that's the position I want him in and that’s what he's been told to do.
"He has to be the creative one. I want him to play the passes he sees."
Meanwhile, former United striker Michael Owen has backed Fernandes not only to start at Craven Cottage but to score for the first time in four games.
Tipping Fernandes to score any time as one of his best bets for the midweek action, Owen said he expected United to continue their impressive away form.
"Manchester United executed their game plan to perfection at Anfield on Sunday," he told BetVictor .
"They could’ve left with all three points but overall, they’ll be pleased with the outcome.
"United are undefeated in their last 16 away matches in the Premier League I cannot see them slipping up here."