After his scintillating performances against Tottenham and Manchester City previously, Manchester United’s Brazilian midfielder Fred is finally starting to look like a £52million player.
When Manchester United beat Manchester City to the signature of the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder, many thought that the club may have finally signed a Brazillian worthy of the United badge after the failed careers of a couple Samba players of the past. Kleberson and Anderson were both sought after midfielders before they joined Manchester United but eventually failed to live up to their hype.
Fred’s arrival in June 2018 was supposed to break that trend considering his huge fee. Jose Mourinho needed a midfield enforcer, an injection of power and quality in the middle. You could argue Fred arrived at United at the worst possible time. The club was yet to settle on a long-term strategy and identity, and the continued dispute between Mourinho and Woodward triumphed over getting the signings they needed. Many journalists had remarkably reported that Mourinho never wanted the Brazilian in the first place, only signing off on the player because Woodward failed to come up with suitable alternatives.
A successful second season under Mourinho with the club finishing second on an impressive 81 points meant the club needed to make improvements but with the toxic nature, uncertainty and negativity springing from the Mourinho, Fred wasn’t provided with the right conditions to thrive. It didn’t take long for the vicious press to deem him a failure, as one of United’s worst signings in the post-Fergie era.
Fans still sang his name, however, as part of the infamous ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ chants, but there was still increasing doubts about his ability to become the player Manchester United needed. He started the first three games of last season, including the defeats to Brighton away and the incredible collapse at home to Tottenham. Much of the defeats weren’t down to him, but United’s failures especially in the middle meant Fred was hung out to dry.
Mourinho never relied on the player after that, and even admitted before his sacking that he could no longer take a chance on the player until the team improved. The arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t provide Fred with the injection he needed, however, and was still seen as a bit-part player. His one highlight in his relatively short time at the club was the victory over Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League knockout stage. The Brazilian showed a glimpse of his workhorse capabilities, becoming a thorn in PSG’s attacks. It was a fine display from a player struggling to fit into the club, but an indication of what he could bring to Solskjaer’s side if provided the opportunity.
Fred was a big part of United’s dreadful form since that night though. A delayed pre-season because of his wedding back in Brazil meant he was overlooked as the season started, making three substitute appearances. His first start against Newcastle provided his critics with the perfect ammunition.
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It was a game which basically summed up his United career. The criticism on him was justified. Simple passes to teammates going astray, long shots veering wide, making unnecessary fouls and a failure to provide the telling quality in the final third. The Manchester Evening News rated him a lowly 2/10 labelling him a ‘frequent liability’.
For Fred, the mountain of expectation has seemed too steep, right from day one. The injury to Paul Pogba was supposed to be his chance to stake a claim, but despite the terrible performances especially in the games against West Ham, Bournemouth Sheffield United, the Brazilian was still getting picked because of a lack of alternatives in the middle. The makeshift partnership with Andreas Pereira was a catastrophic failure. The injury of Scott McTominay really didn’t help the Brazilian’s cause too.
The return of the Scottish midfielder against Tottenham and Manchester City though, provided Fred with the confidence he needed. It was two performances that has allowed the former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder to embark on a redemption journey. Everything that had been bad about him 18 months prior were quickly put to the side. Against Tottenham, Fred repaid the faith Solskjaer had placed in him. United’s energy, drive, pace and fluidity all stemmed from him and Scott McTominay’s domineering presences in the middle. Fred was eating up the ground, pressuring opponents, winning tackles, forceful in the second balls, and finding teammates with some incredible passes through the lines. The Brazilian was simply excellent.
He showed just that against City too.
Guardiola’s side could not live with United’s energy, drive and determination from the first whistle. United’s front four were frightening every time they came up against City’s defenders. Whenever City tried to threaten, they ran into the brilliance of Fred and McTominay who remained compact, steady and combative when needed. Not only that, but United showed a bravery in their passing that had never been imagined of this current side. Fred’s passing through the lines of play was elegant. His pass for Rashford which he put wide was outstanding, and showed a side to his game that United fans weren’t familiar with.
It’s certainly been Fred’s best week in a United shirt and you could argue the instant upturn form is not only down to McTominay’s return from injury but as a result of consistent game time that has served to build up his sharpness, confidence and understanding with his midfield partner, something he never had until now. Fred now knows his role within the team, and his understanding and togetherness with McTominay in the middle has certainly grown in recent weeks. With Paul Pogba returning before the New Year, things do look bright for the Brazilian. The two pivot midfielders will allow Pogba more freedom in an advanced role and could fully complement the partnership behind him, something Andreas Pereira could not achieve.
Only time will tell on that front, consistency is certainly required from here on in for Solskjaer’s side.
Nonetheless, Fred is slowly proving himself in a Manchester United shirt. He really isn’t as bad as fans have made him out to be.
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