Erik ten Hag believes Bruno Fernandes should remain Manchester United’s captain

Erik ten Hag has jumped to the defence of Bruno Fernandes, vowing that the under-fire Manchester United captain will continue to wear the armband this season in Harry Maguire’s absence.

Fernandes has been heavily criticised for his lack of leadership and petulant behaviour during Sunday’s humiliating 7-0 defeat to Liverpool at Anfield.

It has led to calls in some quarters for Ten Hag to take the captaincy away from the player, who has been skipper for the majority of the season with Maguire unable to get into the side.

Sportsmail also геᴠеаlеd that the on-pitch antics of Fernandes have irritated some of his team-mates, raising doubts within the club over his suitability to become permanent captain next season if Maguire leaves in the summer.

However, manager Ten Hag launched a fierce defence of his playmaker, insisting the Portugal star had met the standards expected of a captain at Anfield. ‘Yes, definitely,’ insisted the United boss. ‘He’s playing a brilliant season and he’s had a really important role in why we are in the position we are.

Bruno Fernandes will continue to captain Manchester United despite criticism of his actions during Sunday’s 7-0 loss to Liverpool

The Portuguese midfielder did not react well to United’s seven-goal hiding at Anfield

Erik ten Hag said Fernandes will continue to lead the team, calling him an ‘inspiration’

‘He’s an inspiration for the whole team, but no one is perfect. Everyone makes mistakes and everyone has to learn. I have to learn and he will learn as well because he’s intelligent.

‘I’m really happy to have Bruno Fernandes in the team and I’m really happy that, if Harry is not on the pitch, he’s our captain.’

Sitting alongside his manager at a press conference ahead of tonight’s Europa League last-16 first leg against Real Betis at Old Trafford, Marcus Rashford also defended Fernandes’ conduct and claimed his team-mate was only acting out of desperation to win.

‘I love playing with Bruno,’ said the England international. ‘He’s been a good leader for us even when he’s not been captain, which is always a good sign. He’s done a lot in terms of bringing his leadership skills in from the moment he arrived.

‘Like the manager said, nobody is perfect. Sometimes you want to win so badly you end up doing things that are a little bit out of character.’

Rashford dismissed as nonsense suggestions that United’s players gave up and surrendered against their arch-rivals.

‘Listen, it’s happened and the only thing we can do is learn from it and move on,’ he added.

‘I’m grateful we have another game quickly because we have an opportunity to take a step forward from the last game and put it behind us.’

Still, some experiences are so painful, so harrowing, that moving on is easier said than done. Real Betis were not mentioned once at the press conference on Wednesday. Three days after United’s record-equalling defeat — and the club’s worst since 1931 — the impact was still etched on Ten Hag’s face.

The Dutchman looked pale and drawn as he faced the media and tried to make sense of a setback that no one saw coming. Asked if his players had let him down, he replied: ‘No, we are in the same boat. We win together and we lose together.

Fernandes clutched his face when Ibrahima Konate caught the midfielder in the chest

Ten Hag has entrusted Fernandes with the captain’s armband often in Maguire’s absence

Fernandes has escaped punishment from the FA for pushing the linesman on Sunday

‘We made a mess on Sunday and have to deal with it. We have to reset and bounce back.

‘It was a huge setback, that’s clear. There were a lot of lessons in it and that can help us for the future. That’s the positive, how nеɡɑtiᴠе it is.’

Having beaten La Liga leaders Barcelona in the last round, United will be favourites to knock out another Spanish side in fifth-placed Betis and reach the quarter-finals.

Manuel Pellegrini’s side won 1-0 when the two clubs met at the Estadio Benito Villamarin during United’s winter training camp in December, but that result is largely irrelevant considering the majority of senior players were away at the World Cup.