As second half performances go, the Premier League has hardly ever seen worse.

From being locked at 0-0 with Liverpool in the 43rd minute, to a complete capitulation after the break, and ultimately a scarely believable 7-0 defeat that will hurt Manchester United fans for a long time. Virtually nobody saw it coming.

Erik ten Hag’s side arrived on Merseyside being tipped for all three points by many pundits and supporters. A week earlier they had lifted the Carabao Cup and weren’t far off Arsenal and Manchester City in third place in the league. There was tentative talk of an unlikely quadruple.

So, what went wrong at Anfield? United’s captain for the day Bruno Fernandes finds himself in the spotlight after an appalling display, not just with his footballing performance but with his antics off the ball, which prompted club legend Gary Neville to brand him ’embarassing’.

The United captaincy question is back and it’s a decision Ten Hag will have to mull over in the coming weeks and months.

MORE: How Liverpool dismantled Manchester United in shocking 7-0 rout

Who is Manchester United captain?

Harry Maguire is United’s club captain, having held the post since his debut season at Old Trafford. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer made the call to give Maguire — his record £80million signing from Leicester — the armband in January 2020. He replaced Ashley Young, who moved to Inter Milan in that same transfer window.

Maguire’s role as captain was questioned by many last season, with the England international suffering a dreadful spell of form in the 2021/22 campaign. He seemed overawed by the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo in the squad, with the legendary striker often selected as captain when Maguire was unavailable.

Ten Hag, however, decided to stick by Maguire — ahead of his decision to jettison Ronaldo. In the summer, he was asked at a press conference whether he’d considered taking the armband away from the defender. 

“No,” said Ten Hag. “I always see the captaincy as an issue that I dictate.

“Team building, for me, is an important point, and I always talk about a group of leaders. The captain is a really important one, and I’m happy with him.

“He’s proved it in the past, but he has also to prove it in the present, and in the future.

“He’s played 60 times for England. Harry is really impressive, and I expect a lot from him.”

MORE: Explaining Marcus Rashford’s trademark goal celebration for Man United

Why was Bruno Fernandes captain against Liverpool?

Despite that show of faith in Maguire, it’s Fernandes who has been captain for the majority of United matches this season. The Portuguese playmaker is the club’s vice captain and Maguire has been out of favour under Ten Hag, with the Dutchman preferring to pair Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez together in defence.

Ten Hag likes ‘a group of leaders’, as he’s said, but Fernandes rarely misses a game and cannot be faulted for his passion for the badge. After the Carabao Cup win over Newcastle, Maguire and Fernandes lifted the trophy together.

But Fernandes’ passion spilled over into petulance when things started to unravel against Liverpool.

He could be seen gesticulating wildly towards his teammates and referee Andy Madley, he pushed the assistant referee, and at one stage went down far too easily after minimal contact from Liverpool’s Ibrahima Konate, holding his face when he’d been struck in the chest.

At another point it appeared that Fernandes was complaining to Ten Hag on the touchline that he hadn’t been subbed, as the manager took off Marcus Rashford instead.

Fernandes’ antics at Anfield irritated Neville, who was commentating on the game with Sky Sports. He said: “I think some of his behaviour in the second half has been a disgrace.

“The second half has been an absolute disgrace, a shambles. They have not been epitomised more than Bruno Fernandes, who has been embarrassing – a shambles – in this game.”

Later on his podcast, Neville added: “I’ll start with the captain because you are the captain of the football club. Bruno Fernandes can wind you up sometimes because of the way he is, but that was appalling in the second half.”

Who should be Man United captain?

The Sporting News takes a look at who would be best suited to the captaincy role if Ten Hag did decide to make a permanent change, either in the short term or at the end of the season. Here are the top five options ranked worst to best…

5. Harry Maguire

It must be remembered that Maguire is still the club captain at Old Trafford and retains a fair amount of respect from his peers. The 30-year-old has shortcomings as a player, but receives an unfair level of flak and has been a decent United captain, albeit unspectacular. He could well leave the club in the summer, which would force Ten Hag into a change.

4. Marcus Rashford 

The captaincy might affect his form, which has been superb this year, so Ten Hag may be reluctant to make a change. But Rashford is mature off the pitch, he leads by example and he’s got the temperament required to take on the role of skipper. He’s United born and bred.

3. Bruno Fernandes 

Say what you want about his antics, they are not everyone’s cup of tea, but Fernandes is a team player and usually steps up when it counts. He refused to let Solskjaer take the brunt of fans’ ire during the Norwegian’s final days in the job, and he champions others’ success. He also fronted up to the TV cameras after the Liverpool defeat which — despite his behaviour on the pitch — was commendable. He’s largely been a good captain when he’s stood in.

2. Casemiro

The impact the Brazilian has had on his teammates since arriving at United has been immeasurable. He’s turned them back into a trophy-winning side, he takes games by the scruff of the neck and was recently described by Paul Scholes as ‘the closest thing to Roy Keane United will get’. That is captaincy material.

1. Raphael Varane 

Like his former Real Madrid colleague Casemiro, Varane has brought a winning spirit and ruthless mentality to United that was previously lacking. He can often be seen cajoling teammates at key points in games and insisted that the players went over to applaud the United fans at Anfield after the Liverpool shellacking. For many, Varane would be the ideal choice as the club’s next permanent captain.

Social media & sharing icons powered by UltimatelySocial