THE sight of Erik ten Hag enduring a ‘punishment’ run in the heat has proved to be the turning point in Manchester United’s season.
Boss Ten Hag hauled his players into Carrington the day after a humiliating 4-0 defeat at Brentford in the second match of the campaign.
He then forced them to jog a gruelling 13.8km — the distance Brentford’s players had outrun them by — in sweltering August heat.
Bruno Fernandes says nobody at United was expecting their manager to join them on a boiling hot day at the training ground.
The Portuguese midfielder revealed: “When everyone understood what kind of run it was, it was, ‘Wow, why do we have to do it like this?’. And all of a sudden, you look backwards and you see your manager running with you.
“I don’t know exactly what the distance was but it was big.
“When a manager does the punishment . . . because that’s what you have to call it, it was a punishment, it was supposed to be a day off.
“And we had to come to training and do that run . . . obviously, it makes us feel he knows he was part of that bad result.
“He wants to make us understand that we are together on this in a good way, in a bad way. In the good moments and in the bad moments.
“That shows that he’s a manager that takes the responsibility and not only puts the responsibility on the players. That was a good sign for us, to understand that the discipline would be for everyone and not only for some of the players or some of the people.
“I think it was for us probably, when you feel like, ‘Ah, we have to come to training, we have to run’.”
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Fernandes, 28, saw the immediate effect of Ten Hag’s methods the following day when United’s players returned to begin their preparations for a daunting fixture at home to Liverpool.
He said: “The change was not the day we came in to run, that was obviously a mark from the coach to the players to understand, ‘This is the way I want it!’.
“But I could see the response from everyone the day after.
“Because we came to training and you could see how intense everyone was, how angry everyone was, how you felt everyone wanted to give a response in the next game, even knowing it was Liverpool.
“It was a big game, it was a tough game. At that time, your head was a bit like, ‘Is this the right moment to play Liverpool? It will be more difficult than normally it is already’.
“But everyone also felt that there was no better game to give a response than playing Liverpool at home.
“Because we know, as with Manchester City, what it means for the fans playing against Liverpool, beating Liverpool, how big this game is.
“I think everyone felt, ‘We have to do a turnaround in our season because this is not enough what we have been doing — and this is probably the game to do it’.
“So it could go either way but we did our jobs and we got a good result in that moment to give us the turnaround in our season.
“I think it was the turnaround until now.”
That 2-1 August victory against Liverpool began a run of 11 wins, two draws and two defeats in the Premier League which has taken United to fourth place in the table — just four points behind champions and neighbours City, tomorrow’s visitors to Old Trafford.
With United progressing in the FA Cup and Europa League and into the semi-finals of the Carabao Cup, Ten Hag has also become the quickest Red Devils manager to reach 20 wins after taking charge.
Of course, the last time the two sides met, back in October, City triumphed 6-3 at the Etihad.
But, according to Fernandes, this is now a very different United.
The playmaker said: “Now probably you can see a team that has a way to play that convinces the fans, convinces the players it is the right one and one that can win games
“You go to every game and the feeling you have now is that we are not afraid to play against anyone. In the past you could not see that.
“Fans believe and trust but felt, when the toughest games were coming, there was a little bit of, ‘Can we do it or not?’.
But now, if you look at the fans, the players, everyone, you feel that we can play face-to-face with everyone at this moment.
“This is something we have to believe so that, game by game, we can achieve great results.”
Even against City?
The Portugal star replied: “As I said, everyone now.
“Man City are one of the best clubs in the league but it is about believing in ourselves.
“We know what we have been doing well — and it is about carrying that momentum
“And about understanding that if we keep doing the right things, follow the right direction, follow the right instructions, doing the best for the team, we can achieve great results.”