Manchester United have impossible decision to make over Erik ten Hag undroppable – Liam Wood

The playmaker already had enough on his plate at Old Trafford as he spearheads United&aposs attacking threat – but the decision to appoint him as captain this summer was true indication of his value to manager Erik ten Hag. Not that there should have been any doubt about that mind.

An easy target for pundits and opposition supporters – particularly when things are not going to plan – Fernandes remains the single most important player Ten Hag and United have at their disposal. However, they are now at risk of losing him at some point over an packed winter schedule.

Having picked up four bookings this season, Fernandes is one caution away from a single-match suspension. There are five games to go before the cut-off – starting with Chelsea.

At that point, United can breathe a sigh of relief. Things have been bad enough at times on and off the pitch so far this campaign, but the thought of them going on without Fernandes is unfathomable.

His leadership style is not for everyone – as Roy Keane will testify – but his commitment to the cause is unmatched. In part, that has actually contributed to a lingering conundrum for Ten Hag.

“I will be unhappy if I don&apost start and if I don&apost play games, all 90 minutes, the manager knows that,” said Fernandes when addressing his unparalleled workload last season. “This is my dream and I will never be tired to play.

“When I was a kid, I played maybe seven or eight hours a day,” the Portuguese added: “So to play 90 minutes every three days or two days is not enough for me.”

Fernandes made more appearances (72) for club and country than any other top-level player between September 2022 and September 2023 – according to FIFPRO data – and the 29-year-old has played 90 minutes in all 14 matches for United in the Premier League this season. There are two main reasons for that.

Firstly, the 62-cap international has elite fitness levels. He rarely misses any game through injury and doing so with such intensity, as outlined by the FIFPRO findings, must be applauded.

United have limited options to replace him, meanwhile, and certainly not to the same level. However, their reliance on Fernandes is fraught with risk and – through discipline rather than condition – Fernandes is now red-lining.