Soccer

Bruno Fernandes admits derby loss makes it ‘hard’ for United to reach top four

United sit sixth, 11 points off fourth-placed Aston Villa and six behind Tottenham.

Scott McTominay, left and Bruno Fernandes (right) (AP Photo/Dave Thompson)
Scott McTominay, left and Bruno Fernandes (right) Scott McTominay, left and Bruno Fernandes (right) (AP Photo/Dave Thompson) (Mike Egerton/PA)

Bruno Fernandes admits it is “going to be hard” for Manchester United to qualify for the Champions League after Manchester City’s “individual quality” led to an 11th Premier League loss of the season.

An unbeaten start to 2024 came to an abrupt halt at home to Fulham last weekend and, having edged past Nottingham Forest in the FA Cup, was compounded by another league defeat on Sunday afternoon.

Marcus Rashford put unfancied United into a shock lead at the Etihad Stadium, only for fabulous Phil Foden’s brace and a stoppage-time Erling Haaland strike to seal City a 3-1 derby win.

Phil Foden scores Manchester City’s second of the derby
Phil Foden scores Manchester City's second of the derby Phil Foden scores Manchester City’s second of the derby (Mike Egerton/PA)

“Obviously we’re disappointed,” skipper Fernandes said after the defeat. “I think we could have got something from the game.

“I think the effort from the team was there. Everyone tried really hard to get the result today, but it wasn’t possible.

“I said at half-time I felt that the team was doing everything we could to defend our box.

“We know that at moments we had to defend deep and be together and be compact and help each other.

“We did it but obviously I think today the difference was the individual quality from the players of City that made them win this game.”

The gulf in quality was clear to anyone watching, although under-fire boss Erik ten Hag believes the gap would be closer if United were not beset by injuries.

Such issues have undoubtedly hurt the Red Devils in a second season to forget for the Dutchman, whose side are an eye-watering 19 points behind Premier League leaders Liverpool with 11 matches remaining.

If that was not bad enough, Ten Hag’s side are facing an uphill battle even to secure a return to European football’s top table.

United sit sixth, 11 points off fourth-placed Aston Villa and six points behind Tottenham – who have a game in hand – in fifth spot, which could yet be enough for Champions League qualification.

“We need to look forward,” Fernandes told MUTV, as attention now turns to the Saturday lunchtime encounter with embattled Everton.

“We don’t depend only on ourselves to get in the positions we want. We’re not hiding from that.

“We want to be in the Champions League, we want to try until the end of the season to get into that fourth place.

Erik ten Hag and his side now turn their attention to beating Everton
Erik ten Hag and his side now turn their attention to beating Everton Erik ten Hag and his side now turn their attention to beating Everton (Mike Egerton/PA)

“That gives you the possibility to be in the Champions League, so we know it’s going to be hard, but we have to do everything that is on our hands that we can do.

“Going to the next game at home, we know that our fans will be there again, over and over again.

“They’re being behind us, they push us and next game we have to go there and win that game.”