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Fred: A perfect catalyst to ignite Manchester United’s title challenge

The 2017-18 Premier League season was a mixed-bag for Manchester United. They finished 19 points behind champions Manchester City, but were still ‘best of the rest’. United could not collect any silverware in the season, yet, managed to achieve the highest finish in the league since Sir Alex Ferguson’s last season at the helm. They had the second tightest defence in the league, with David de Gea, deservedly winning the 2018 Premier League Golden Glove. However, time and again, questions were asked about the lack of imagination and creativity in midfield, which resulted in points being dropped against smaller oppositions.

Nemanja Matic was the main-stay in the midfield for most of the season. Jose Mourinho tried various different tactics with Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Jesse Lingard and Scott McTominay filling in the other two positions in a three-man midfield. Inconsistent performances combined with frequent changes meant that sustained partnerships could not develop. This mid-field conundrum, coupled with Michael Carrick’s retirement at the end of the season, highlighted a gaping hole in United’s attack.

This was reflected in their urgency to sign a midfielder, which culminated when they signed Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos (Fred), from Shakhtar Donetsk. The 25-year old completed his medical before heading with the Brazilian National team to the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia. Jose Mourinho, justified his choice and intent, in his official statement on the transfer

“Fred will complement our other midfielders’ qualities, which we need; his creative brain and passing vision will give us another dimension to our game. I am very happy he is joining our club and I believe our players know how important he can be in our team.”

Fred is touted to be one of the most talented young midfielders, with his performances for Shakhtar last season, raising quite a few eyebrows across Europe. With his play-making abilities, he helped Shakhtar successfully defend their title in Ukraine. He lit the European nights with some great performances in the Champions League, notably against Manchester City in the group stages. Owing to a strong season, Fred, who made his debut for the Brazil National team in the 2015 Copa America, was selected as part of the ‘Selecao’ for the FIFA World Cup this summer.

However, a training injury meant he was an unused substitute in the tournament. Having recovered from the injury, Fred has joined his new teammates in the on-going pre-season tour of United States. In a press conference, before Wednesday’s match against AC Milan, the gaffer gave his thoughts on the player and potential tactics

“People like Nemanja Matic, Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba, even Ander Herrera, are physical and strong midfielders; we think that players like Fred, and Andreas Pereira, are more technical, passing and playing in short spaces and maybe connecting with the attacking players.”

At 5′ 7″, Fred, certainly is not the best when it comes to aerial duels and physical strength, but he does bring a whole different skill-set to the table. He is primarily a left-footed player but is as comfortable relying on his other foot, when dribbling or drilling shots from outside the box. He is an excellent dribbler and a gifted passer. According to Brazil World Cup winner Gilberto Silva,

“He’s a mixture of a no.6 and a no.8; he can play in both positions and he played in many different roles in his early days, including as a winger. He has a lot of qualities, particularly in co-ordinating the game, like a tough playmaker. He’s a real box-to-box midfielder and his final pass is really good.”

This versatility can help United, as Fred can easily slot in with Matic and Pogba in the current formation. He can provide a lethal outlet with his clinical passing, and he has shown that, time and again, during last season at Shakhtar. He is capable of playing incisive through balls, breaking the opposition lines, something that United have been lacking, especially against teams that sit back and defend.

He can play deep when defending and has the ability to switch gears quickly, with his speed and powerful dribbles. His powerful runs combined with the pace of players like Romelu Lukaku, Pogba, Marcus Rashford and others, may well bring about the kind of counter-attacks that the loyal fan-base of Manchester United are dying to see regularly.

Despite his small stature, he is good at tackling and recovering second balls and can double up with defenders, thus allowing a solid back line and releasing players like Pogba to do what they do best up-front. Pogba, who faced some criticism when defending last season, can excel in this partnership, as Fred offers additional defensive cover. His youthful exuberance and energy can be handy, as he can make overlapping runs on the right-wing, an area of concern for United as they lack a proper winger on the right-wing. His crosses and lob passes can help a target man like Lukaku, who is lurking the defenders’ shadows ready to pounce on goal-scoring opportunities.

These are early days, as he trains with his teammates in pre-season, but with the right amount of training, time and hard work, Fred can develop into the final piece of the puzzle that is currently missing in the team. It is going to be a massive effort on his end, stepping up from the Ukrainian Premier League to Premier League and he has to keep his focus and confidence throughout this transition. He may have to suffice with smaller roles to begin the season with, but with his potential and skill-set, he certainly has it in him to start big games in the latter half of the season.

His calm composure on the ball, has already persuaded people to herald him as a true successor to Michael Carrick. Whether he turns out to be or not, only time shall tell. One thing is for sure, Fred, much like Carrick, has the potential to string the team together and be the catalyst that ignites United’s efforts for another title challenge!

Written by Chinmay Tembe

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