Since Fred’s arrival at Manchester United in 2018 for £47 million, he’s been the subject of support but also on the contrary a lot of criticism. He’s never been seen as the perfect player but with the gradual improvement in the United squad the issues in the middle are coming to the surface more prominently.
Fred’s time at the club so far has been mixed. When he arrived in 2019 for such an expensive transfer fee, expectations were high. Fred struggled to settle in for many months and rarely played under then coach Jose Mourinho. Even back then United had midfield issues and as he settled, he was seen as the man to change that.
In the 2018/19 season he only played 17 games in the league racking up 1,044 minutes whereas in the 2019/20 season he played 29 games with 2,159 minutes which was over double the previous season. This illustrates Fred’s progression since his signing as with a consistent run of games in the team he looked far more secure and became one of the first names on the team sheet.
This season, his place is more competitive as with Paul Pogba dropping into midfield but still racking up assists, he becomes un-droppable and Nemanja Matic’s strong performances also give him a shout for starting.
To ensure Fred’s stays in this United team he must prove to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer that he is fit to play in a more adventurous pivot and not always the timid approach seen for most of last season.
If he can become that proper defensive midfielder and not half of one, he could sustain his place in the team for years to come but with a midfielder high up on the list of priorities next summer he must show this progression very soon to have a chance of keeping his spot.
Fred usually sits in a two-man pivot often with Scott McTominay and sometimes Pogba or Matic. Despite originally playing in an advanced role for Shakhtar Donetsk his best qualities are more defensive. Fred has a fantastic engine which helps him power through games enabling him to press well even in the latter stages of games.
He’s got a low centre of gravity and is very tenacious meaning he can cover ground quickly and can stick a foot in to stop oppositions attacks. The main issue with Fred is his overall game. He has some strong attributes but needs someone next to him to complete a one-man role.
He’s often played as United’s defensive midfielder, and the key fundamental parts of that role is the shielding of the back four, collecting the ball off the centre halves, transitioning it forward and just basic progression of the ball.
Fred lacks in each of these areas. Unlike more natural defensive midfielders like Fabinho or Fernandinho, Fred can’t read the game to the highest degree and thus can leave the defence exposed meaning Solskjaer often feels like he must put a more solid midfielder next to him. He can intercept some passes, but his positioning can be off and when countered the game can pass him by.
Furthermore, his first touch is quite weak which means when passing out the back, Fred can be susceptible to losing control of the ball and being put under pressure from the oppositions press or just give the ball away with his lose passing. He often needs excess touches to get the ball under control and when he does pass its often sideways or a loose pass forward.
This lack of ball progression ability hinders United as a team’s overall play as the ball can’t be transitioned quickly which gives the opposition time to re-group and settle in their defensive structure which United in turn then struggle to break down.
When playing, Fred positively effects United’s pressing tempo as he always chases down the ball but can hinder the tempo of the passing with his need for multiple touches. However, as Matic ages, his tenacious playstyle helps United defensively as he can cover the ground well not leaving acres of space.
Overall, I feel Fred is a good player, but he is not of Manchester United standard as he isn’t a complete player and can be the hinderance stopping United’s fast flowing football. He could become useful squad depth but shouldn’t be starting as he can become a liability as Solskjaer then must use two players to fill one role which slows the whole team down.
Ultimately, if he can improve on his weaknesses he could reach the United level, but with him being at the club for a couple years now and still struggling to pass the ball accurately, I feel he just isn’t of United standard and Solskjaer should look to bring in a proper defensive midfielder when he next has the opportunity.
Written by Ethan Bents