Erik ten Hag has branded criticism of Bruno Fernandes as “crazy” after the midfielder scored Manchester United‘s winner against Aston Villa on Sunday.

Fernandes faced questions about whether he should captain United again in the aftermath of the 7-0 defeat to Liverpool in March.

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Ten Hag defended the Portugal international at the time and took the opportunity to do so again after he helped United to a vital victory in the race for the top four.

“He’s so tough, a couple of weeks ago there were questions about his captaincy, it’s crazy,” Ten Hag told his postmatch news conference.

“He’s such a big leader. He gives so much energy to the team. His determination, his passion, his resilience; we need such players if you want to win games and make trophies.”

Fernandes was left needing crutches after the FA Cup semifinal against Brighton but returned to the team to play 90 minutes in the 2-2 draw with Tottenham just four days later.

He was named captain against Villa in the absence of Harry Maguire and scored the only goal of the game in the first half after Emiliano Martinez had parried Marcus Rashford‘s shot.

“You need players like Bruno to be successful,” Ten Hag added. “He understands the moment when to close down, when to put an opponent into trouble,

“He knows when to track back and close passing lines, close opponents, even if our press gets beat he tracks back. He can play in between lines and then get behind lines. He has so many skills, it’s a pleasure to work with players like him.”

The win over Aston Villa was played out against a backdrop of protest at Old Trafford with fans demonstrating against the Glazer Family’s ownership before kick-off.

Supporters carried banners on a march from Manchester city centre demanding a “full sale” two days after third and final bids for control of the club were lodged by Sir Jim Ratcliffe and Qatar-backed Sheikh Jassim.

“We felt the fans were behind us,” said Ten Hag when asked about the protests. “We have to focus to be successful because that’s what the fans expect, they have to rely on us, we will focus on that. When we keep performing like we do all season the fans are behind us.”

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Ten Hag slams ‘crazy’ Fernandes criticism after Man Utd win