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Is Fred of the standard a Manchester United player should be?

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

Opinion: Manchester United’s Midfield Dilemma

The 2021/22 Premier League season has started and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a big decision to make with regards to who he picks as his first-choice midfield. Since his arrival at the club, Solskjaer has tried to stick to partnerships remaining loyal to his primary midfielders. Due to Bruno Fernandes’ remarkable impact, his spot in the team has always been guaranteed thus leaving Solskjaer only two spots to figure out. In Solskjaer’s preferred 4-2-3-1, he’s often used Scott McTominay and Fred as his midfield pivot to ensure stability at the back.

This can be viewed as quite defensive, but it does provide that cover for the back four especially when he sees the partnership of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire as unreliable. With the addition of Raphael Varane, this may change the dynamic at United as Solskjaer will feel that his new centre half partnership is assured and thus he can adapt to a more offensive approach rather than two more defensive minded players. Therefore, Solskjaer has a big decision to make on whether to play more freely but leaving the defence more vulnerable or sticking to a more stable but offensively hindered duo. The four midfield partnerships he could choose are:

Scott McTominay and Fred

Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba

Donny van de Beek and Nemanja Matic

Paul Pogba and Scott McTominay/Fred

Firstly, McTominay and Fred. This is the pivot we’ve seen the most of as a pairing and thus know what to expect. They bring high work rate always willing to run for the badge and won’t give in when it gets tough. Defensively, they are solid and can cover the back four well seen especially in games against Manchester City where United had to defend for much of the game due to City’s expert ball retention ability but held them out before swiftly hitting them on the counter-attack. McTominay’s height and aggression brings a real ariel presence and can help to win the midfield battle due to his tough tackling and determination to win the ball.

Fred carries a phenomenal engine throughout and never stops pressing and hassling the opposition. However, what this duo lack is technical ability, especially offensively. As a duo they are two separate players doing one mans job; neither player is a specialist defensive midfielder, but Solskjaer has often felt to get the job done you need both. Furthermore, a major weakness of their game is ball progression. A key role in the defensive midfield position is the transition of the ball; they must be able to pick the ball up off the centre half’s and then move it forward with speed.

McTominay and Fred struggle to do this due to their weak first touch, passing and progressive dribbling. Thus, when paired together, the ball is often held around the midfield for far too long taking multiple touches to find a simple pass. This completely slows United’s attacking flow as by the time the ball reaches the final third the opposition’s defence is well organised. Furthermore, because of their weak passing, it can limit how well the ball is progressed often resulting in the forwards dropping deeper and deeper to receive the ball which destroys all attacking shape and make it easier for the oppositions defence.

Therefore, as a duo they bring stability, but due to their weakness on the ball can give possession away which makes it easier for the opposition to dictate the games.

The next partnership is Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. This partnership was most used post lockdown last year and was highly effective at the time. Its biggest strength is balance, Unlike McTominay and Fred there is balance between a natural defensive midfielder in Matic and then a more creative player in Pogba. This means despite not having two players to cover, the defence is stable as due to Matic’s elite positioning, awareness and ability to intercept he can shield the back four on his own. This then leaves Pogba more license to get forward and with his passing range and strong ball progression abilities, transitioning the ball becomes far easier and more effective.

Matic picks the ball up off the defenders, quickly passing it to Pogba who in turn, can find a 40-yard pass if necessary or make a defence splitting pass through the midfield into the final third for the attackers. This creates a smooth flow and speed to United’s game which is much harder for the opposition to defend. However, one major weakness is energy. Unlike McTominay and Fred in which you’re guaranteed tenacity and energy, with Pogba and Matic this isn’t the case. With Matic’s lack of speed he makes up for it with defensive positioning, but if the opposition team attempt to swamp the midfield it can leave Matic slightly vulnerable.

In addition, Pogba isn’t renowned for his defensive abilities and can be susceptible to not tracking back which would expose Matic even more. Furthermore, as a player Pogba can be clumsy when defending, and has a knack for giving penalties away. This as a trait for a player who is expected to track back and provide cover in the box is a weakness. Therefore, in high energy games this duo can be slightly vulnerable and become a liability but their high quality on the ball means often even against imposing midfields they can retain the ball well keeping a real control on the game and thus not being put into these issues.

Thirdly, there’s the partnership of Matic and Donny van de Beek. This is a relatively untested duo which has emerged in pre-season due to the lack of internationals fit after the Euros. This duo is highly intelligent and would always be one step ahead of the oppositional team. With Van de Beek’s awareness he can play himself out of trouble and prevent United from losing the ball. He like Matic has a good passing range on him, with a real ability to play cute one-twos with teammates making space for others. This will help United’s transition of the ball because both midfielders can pass well and are very comfortable with the ball at feet and can transition it smoothly.

Defensively, although not particularly tall, Van de Beek has good tenacity and can put a tackle in to turnover possession for his side. Furthermore, with Matic next to him it provides the necessary freedom to let him roam forward. Also, Van de Beek is a more energetic player than Pogba and so won’t let himself get ran out of the game. However, he’s not got such a brilliant passing range so can’t create a chance out of nothing like Pogba. Finally, the midfield with Pogba and Fred or McTominay. On paper if you mix Pogba’s attacking output and combine it with Fred’s or McTominay’s defensive work it would create a strong midfield but in reality, it’s the opposite.

Individually, Fred and Mctominay don’t have a strong enough footballing brain especially defensively to properly shield the back four. They can’t read the game like Matic and so United would miss that player who can put in a crucial interception to save a goal scoring opportunity. Furthermore, as Pogba isn’t the strongest defensively, a natural defensive midfielder is necessary and neither Fred nor McTominay provide this. However, as a midfield, due to Mctominay or Fred’s athleticism and stamina, the midfield wouldn’t get outworked and there would be enough speed in there which can be lacking with Matic.

Overall, I feel that despite issues with each pivot, he should use them all. Although previously he’s liked to have one partnership he sticks to, I feel different players will be more effective against different opponents. Against Leeds United due to the impeccable fitness standards Marcelo Bielsa inflicts on his men, Solskjaer used a more energetic duo like McTominay and Fred. But, in the future, against more defensive teams, Solskjaer should look to utilise players like Donny van de Beek and his intricate and clever play style to break down deep blocks.

However, if Solskjaer is to stick to one midfield I think he should, when possible, pick Matic and then either Pogba or Van de Beek as his partner. Last season Pogba played multiple games off the left due to Solskjaer insistence on using Mctominay and Fred and so with Rashford’s injury he may look to move Pogba back to the left and use Van de Beek and Matic as the midfield pivot to maximise creativity.

In Conclusion, I hope that although McTominay and Fred have their qualities, they are used more sparingly, and he goes with a more offensive approach this season as United with the signings of Varane and Jadon Sancho have the quality to dictate games, dominating oppositions and ultimately bring trophies back to Old Trafford.

Written by Ethan Bents

Defensive Midfielder: The Key to Bringing Success Back to Old Trafford?

The most important position on a football pitch is highly debatable, some say goalkeeper, others will say in the modern game its fullbacks, whereas I feel the most important position in the team is defensive midfielder. A defensive midfielder acts as a shield to the defence, intercepting counter attacks and trying to provide stability to the midfield. Without a defensive midfielder, often midfields can be imbalanced leaving their defences exposed or on the contrary too heavily covered and thus restricting the creativity in the team.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been heavily criticised for his preference of Scott McTominay and Fred in a double pivot in the midfield. This is seen by many as too defensive, which hinders the teams attacking output. This is as a result of the movement of the passing. The key to a good midfield is the ability to pick the ball off the defence and transition it quickly into the final third for the forwards to attack.

The criticism of McTominay and Fred is both of them are not naturally gifted at passing nor ball control thus when they transition the ball its often too slow as they take many touches and pass side to side as they aren’t comfortable passing forward with great intent. This was seen in the Liverpool vs United game in the backend of last season in May when United lost to their bitter rivals 4-2. Liverpool traditionally under Klopp play with a high press attempting to put the oppositional team under pressure and win back possession high up the field leaving the defence vulnerable and open to chances.

Liverpool used this gameplan and to great effect as they pressed United high and in the title of the Manchester Evening News article for the player ratings, stated; “Fred and Scott McTominay Terrible.” The pair in midfield gave the ball away countless times which inevitably led to Liverpool’s goals. Often, their weak passing can be hidden due to teams sitting off, but when United are pressed their weaknesses become very evident. Furthermore, this although not as prominent an issue but still a weakness is a concern for United when playing teams like Burnley who try sit in and make it difficult.

The lack of creativity in the midfield when using Fred and McTominay means breaking down these resilient teams can be a nightmare. Therefore, the use of Fred and McTominay when playing the weaker teams has become a major criticism of Solskjaer’s from the fans. As a result of Solskjaer’s preference for Mctominay and Fred, this has forced Paul Pogba onto the left wing where he arguably isn’t as effective. This debate is of the essence right now due to Pogba’s phenomenal performances for France in Euro 2020.

Despite being knocked out, Pogba was one of the best players at the tournament playing as a midfielder for France rather then out on the wing. His defence splitting passes, strong tackling and boisterous power in the midfield has led fans to demand Solskjaer moves Pogba back into his ‘best position’ for the start of the 2021/22 season. With the arrival of Jadon Sancho from Dortmund as an exciting winger, this could force Solskjaer to play Pogba in midfield as he’s likely to start Rashford on the left, Sancho on the right and Martial through the middle. 

The effect of a Defensive Midfielder for Manchester United

As seen with France, Pogba looks far more comfortable with a natural defensive midfielder next to him and so with Solskjaer potentially looking at a midfielder in the summer transfer window, the freeing up of Pogba could finally happen. Pogba’s best form recently came when he played next to a natural defensive midfielder in Matic. Matic covered the defence giving Pogba license to go forward. Matic is now 32 turning 33 in August and so is no longer fit enough to play two to three games a week leaving United without a first-choice defensive midfielder.

The emergence of James Garner could solve this in the future but for now United need a world class defensive midfielder to dictate games. For the summer transfer window, I feel this should be our biggest priority as with a good defensive midfielder we will be able to transition the ball far better giving the ball to our more attacking players like Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani quicker so they have more space to attack and exploit the defence.

As mentioned, it will mean Pogba can go forward with more freedom and most importantly if possession is lost there will be a player who can read the play and anticipate and intercept the oncoming attack, and therefore avoid any counterattacks going right through the midfield leaving the defence exposed. Therefore, this would let United dictate and control more games which United have struggled with in recent years letting winnable games slip by to late equalisers like against Everton last season and Southampton post-lockdown.

In addition, all the best teams in the world have a world class defensive midfielder; Manchester City have Fernandinho, Liverpool have Fabinho, Bayern have Joshua Kimmich and Real Madrid have Casemiro. In the last couple months, we’ve seen Fabinho be moved to centre half to deal with their injury issues. Immediately, Liverpool’s defence looked so much weaker as they didn’t have a defensive midfielder Infront of them to shield leaving them incredibly vulnerable.

Furthermore, in the Champions League final, Guardiola tried a midfield without a defensive midfielder. Chelsea used this to their advantage and carved right through City’s defence, and their ‘world class’ defensive partnership of Rúben Dias and John Stones looked completely lost and weak. Therefore, this shows that when these great teams no matter how good they are play without a defensive midfielder they look that much worse. So, if United had a proper defensive midfielder I feel United would improve astronomically and could be the difference between getting to finals and winning titles. 

The main name many fans want is Declan Rice, but some other options include Wilfred Ndidi and Manuel Locatelli. Declan Rice has been an impressive midfielder in West Hams resurgence in the 2020/21 season which has led his value to being of an absurd £80 million due to him being an English midfielder playing in the Premier League. This has led to many feeling that United should avoid Rice as paying £80 million is overpriced. Ndidi is a Nigerian midfielder playing for Leicester. He has good strength and brilliant tackling. These attributes could create great stability in the United midfield but the main issue is price.

Leicester City has an incredibly efficient transfer system meaning they buy for cheap and sell for very high. In the 2019 summer transfer market, United were forced to pay a huge upfront fee of £80 million for Maguire from Leicester. Therefore, Ndidi would cost around a similar fee which in a covid market isn’t realistic. Locatelli who has shone for Italy in the Euros is 23 years old playing for Sassuolo in Serie A. He’s got an eye for goal, as well as great passing ability and tackling which would enable him to progress the ball very well and put some crucial tackles in. His price would be around the region of £30-40 million.

However, Locatelli looks likely to go to Juventus so therefore, United should make a move for Eduardo Camavinga who is an 18-year-old French midfielder playing in the French league for Rennes. He’s highly rated with a special future and would probably cost around £50 million. This may seem extensive for someone so young, but his high ability at 18 means he could be moulded into a world class defensive midfielder in future creating a good relationship with Paul Pogba.

In Conclusion, I feel United must go all out to get a defensive midfielder this summer as a proper defensive midfielder could take United to the next level and bring trophies back to Old Trafford with Camavinga being my first choice if Locatelli goes to Juventus.

Written by Ethan Bents

November Review: Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Fred in the plaudits for November

Manchester United played six times in November – a month which started with two defeats in the Premier League (Arsenal) and the UEFA Champions League (Istanbul Basaksehir) but then started to head in the right direction with victories over Everton, West Bromwich Albion, Istanbul Basaksehir and an added time victory over Southampton. United started the month tottering above the relegation zone in the Premier League and leading their group in the Champions League, which is still the case despite the defeat to the Turkish club. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have ended the month by rising to 14th place in the Premier League with December will be tricky.

November Statistics:

Six matches played; four wins, no draws and two defeats. Nine Premier League points won and three Champions League points won. 12 goals scored, seven goals conceded – one clean sheet. United started the month inn 15th place in the Premier League, finishing in eighth place with United having a game in hand of all of the clubs above them, which if played now could see them rise to fifth place (as United’s goal difference is at zero and Leicester City – in fourth place – having a +6 goal difference). Solskjaer will be seeking for United to start December in the same form they are in now – winning, rather than starting in the same was as September and October.

1/11 – Manchester United 0-1 Arsenal – Premier League

After United ended October on a high with a 5-0 victory over RB Leipzig in the Champions League, it was though that the club had turned a corner and were looking to start November in style. However, that was not the case in the poor match against Arsenal, who are not one of the toughest teams to beat in the Premier League this season. A 69th minute penalty scored by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was a disaster for United, and Paul Pogba who gave away the spot kick. It was not a great result for United, who had eight shots with two of those on target. It was a match that United should have won though, which will be a regret for the month.

4/11 – Istanbul Basaksehir 2-1 Manchester United – Champions League

This was a match that United were hoping to hit back in but they got hit instead. The club has not fared well in Istanbul and that hoodoo continued as they faced Istanbul Basaksehir for the first time in European competition. Rafael da Silva would face United for the first time, which was good for him to face the club he loves. United were hit twice in the 12th and 40th minute with all players deep in the opposition half and the Turkish side running through with the ball and putting their shots past Dean Henderson, who made his Champions League debut. There was a late consolation goal from Anthony Martial though.

7/11 – Everton 1-3 Manchester United – Premier League

This was the third match of the month and the last before a two-week international break so it was imperative that United got a good result. Everton had been in great form this season and were top of the league for much of the first month of the season but ahead of this match, their form was not the greatest. In the 19th minute of the match, Bernard scored the opening goal, which looked dire for United. However, a seven minute brace by Bruno Fernandes followed by an added time goal for Edinson Cavani secured all three points for United, which put them in a better position moving forward with a lot more work to be done.

21/11 – Manchester United 1-0 West Bromwich Albion – Premier League

After the international break, United were once again playing at Old Trafford, a stadium they they had not won a match in the Premier League this season. The Baggies were seemingly struggling in the league and needed to record their first victory of the season, taking United’s poor home record into account. That was not what happened though after United won a penalty in the 56th minute of the match after a dire first half. Bruno Fernandes scored the spot kick and it was the only goal of the match, which was a shame for United as they were trying to get more goals scored. A win is a win though and the first home win in the league was important.

24/11 – Manchester United 4-1 Istanbul Basaksehir – Champions League

United were back in the Champions League after two wins against Everton and West Bromwich Albion after the international break, facing the Turkish champions who beat United in the competition three weeks prior to this match. United seemed determined to get a result to keep them at the top of their group with two matches left to play. Bruno Fernandes struck with a sublime finish in the seventh minute, doubling the lead 12 minutes later. United won a penalty in the 35th minute with Fernandes on a hat-trick but Marcus Rashford took the spot kick with United leading 3-0 at half time. Daniel James scored in injury time after the Turks scored late in the half.

29/11 – Southampton 2-3 Manchester United – Premier League

Southampton have been a team in good form this season and were not going to be an easy task for United, which has shown after conceding twice in the opening 33 minutes of the match and David De Gea getting a knock, which saw him substituted during the half time break. United got themselves back into the match with Bruno Fernandes scoring in the 60th minute which made it game on. Edinson Cavani, also a half time substitute, scored his second goal of the season in the 74th minute of the match, before scoring the winning goal in added time, scoring both goals from headers. I guess people should not be judging a player based on their age anymore.

Bruno Fernandes – six appearances (six starts), 494 minutes, six goals, two assists and three Man of the Match awards.

Bruno Fernandes has been an important player for United and he has not even been at the club for a year yet, arriving in January 2020 and making bis debut in February. This season he has scored ten goals and assisted a further six with six goals and two assists scored in November. Fernandes scored his first goals against Everton, also scoring against the Baggies and Southampton with another brace against Istanbul Basaksehir. When he is playing, despite having poor spells against the Saints, he is determined to do the best he can to continue winning. United have done well with his acquisition and will continue to do well as long as he plays for the club.

Edinson Cavani – six appearances (one start), 214 minutes, three goals, one assist and one Man of the Match award.

Edinson Cavani has been a great signing for United, even with the criticism from United supporters and ABUs because of his age. That needs to be put to bed now as the comments are attention seeking at best. They should have learned with Zlatan Ibrahimovic, but they didn’t. Cavani has played a small role at the club this month, in terms of minutes played but with goals and an assist, he has been an important player. He scored his first goal in added time against Everton with United 2-1 up and Everton pushing to equalise. He then scored a brace against Southampton, putting United level then winning the match in a game which United struggled at times.

Fred – five appearances (five starts), 415 minutes – a player that has earned his stripes at United?

Fred has grown from last month when he was besoming a big game player for the club. He’s not lauded by many and some still seem to criticise him because he is not a big name and came for a big price. He does not score many goals nor does he try and score them but in terms of what he offers for the club, his work rate, passion and ability to man-mark are his best attributes. It does not always work, which will be the same for almost every player in the game but he should be proud of how he has responded since his day at the club were almost ended by Jose Mourinho, who was sacked many months later. If he continues his form, he will keep playing regularly.

Notable Mentions: David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Alex Telles.

David De Gea made five starts in November, played 405 minutes and kept one clean sheet. Despite the loss against Arsenal, he did not lose any other matches during the month with Dean Henderson playing in the 2-1 defeat to Istanbul Basaksehir. It was unfortunate that he received an injury against Southampton and was substituted. Luke Shaw assisted twice in November with his assists coming against the Turkish side (in the defeat) and against Everton, which also saw him coming off injured. Alex Telles is another player who is heading in the right direction, playing three times, all starts and having 264 minutes on the pitch playing some good football.

Who is your Player of the Month for November 2020?

A look at what lies ahead in December…

United will play nine matches in December and it is going to be a tough month with the last five matches of the month played over a 12-day period. United will complete their Champions League group stage in December, currently topping their group and needing good results against PSG and Leipzig. United will also play six Premier League matches, seeking to gain some group in the league this season, after a poor start to the season. Solskjaer’s side do still have that game in hand they missed from the start of the season, which might close the gaps a little more. The club will also return to the Carabao Cup against Everton in the quarter-final stage.

2/12 – Paris Saint-Germain, Old Trafford – Champions League

5/12 – West Ham United, London Stadium – Premier League

8/12 – RB Leipzig, Red Bull Arena – Champions League

12/12 – Manchester City, Old Trafford – Premier League

17/12 – Sheffield United, Bramall Lane – Premier League

20/12 – Leeds United, Old Trafford – Premier League

23/12 – Everton, Goodison Park – Carabao Cup

26/12 – Leicester City, King Power Stadium – Premier League

29/12 – Wolverhampton Wanderers, Old Trafford – Premier League

Written by John Walker

October Review: Marcus Rashford, Bruno Fernandes and Fred in the plaudits for Player of the Month

Manchester United played five times in October which started with negativity and ended with positivity. United’s season did not start as was expected, probably because of the coronavirus pandemic which saw last season delayed by three months, play into the summer with the UEFA Champions League and the UEFA Europa League being played into August. United did not have a pre-season this summer, playing just one match the week before they were due to start the 2020/21 Premier League season. United started the month at home, ending at home but with two very different matches being played.

4/10 – Manchester United 1-6 Tottenham Hotspur – Premier League

United started the month with a poor result at the Theatre of Dreams in the Premier League as Spurs ran riot winning 6-1. The last result of this proportion was back in the 2010/11 season as United lost 6-1 to Manchester City. Anthony Martial was sent off for a violent conduct with Erik Lamela escaping punishment. Hueng-min Son scored a brace, also getting an assist, which was the case with Harry Kane. The other goals scored by Tanguy NDombele and Serge Aurier. United started well, winning a penalty inside two minutes which Bruno Fernandes scored. It all went downhill from there. United would have almost two weeks to dwell on this defeat.

17/10 – Newcastle United 1-4 Manchester United – Premier League

After the international break, United had their chance to come back from their 6-1 defeat to Spurs. The match did not start all that well with Luke Shaw scoring an own goal inside two minutes but United fought back to get level with Harry Maguire heading home in the 23rd minute of the match. There were chances for each side during the match but the Magpies never really looked like they would score a goal for themselves. It seemed to be destined for a 1-1 draw, which was a positive result, however, a thunderous effort from Bruno Fernandes, a first United goal for Aaron Wan-Bissaka and a fourth goal from Marcus Rashford ended it on a high for United.

20/10 – Paris Saint-Germain 1-2 Manchester United – UEFA Champions League

That was United’s first match back in the Champions League since the 2018/19 season, spending last season in the Europa League and reaching the semi-finals of the competition. It was perhaps the biggest match of the season so far and the most difficult match, at least on paper, in the group stage. United won at the Parc des Princes at the round of 16 stage in the 2018/19 season, and they did the same here to get three points on the board. Bruno Fernandes opened the scoring in the 23rd minute from the penalty spot before Anthony Martial scored an own goal in the 55th minute. Rashford won the game for United as he did the season before last.

24/10 – Manchester United 0-0 Chelsea – Premier League

Frank Lampard has only beaten United once in four matches last season, winning the semi-final of the Emirates FA Cup, only to get beat by Arsenal in the final. Returning to Old Trafford where his club was beaten 4-0 at the start of last season could have garnered a similar consequence despite the money the club has spent in the summer to rejuvenate the squad, which is not happening to a consistent level at this moment in time. United were the better team in the 0-0 draw and should have at least scored one goal. Edinson Cavani made his debut and almost bagged a goal instantly. It was not meant to be for United – still unbeaten against Chelsea in the league.

28/10 – Manchester United 5-0 RB Leipzig – UEFA Champions League

The last match of the month for United and despite the stutter at the start of the month, United have turned their form around. Leipzig had never faced United before, so this was another unknown fixture. United took the lead through Mason Greenwood in the 21st minute with a superb finish. United seemed to be on top despite some chances by the German side and David De Gea making a few good saves. Marcus Rashford scored United’s second in the 76th minute, which was flagged for offside but given by VAR. Two minutes later he had a brace. Anthony Martial then won a penalty and scored with Rashford competing his hat-trick in added time.

Bruno Fernandes – five appearances (four starts), 335 minutes, two goals, two assists and one Man of the Match award.

The Portuguese midfielder has really taken to United like a duck to water in his short time playing for the club. He only made his debut at the start of February and has already scored 16 goals and 12 assists in 30 appearances for the club. Popular with the supporters of the club but also able to back that up on the pitch. There are very few matches that he has not been an inspiration in, even this month. Some say that he only scores penalties, which was quashed with that thunderous strike against the Magpies. Fernandes has registered more assists that any other United player in all competitions under the management of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Marcus Rashford MBE – five appearances (four starts), 387 minutes, five goals, two assists and one Man of the Match award.

From taking on the Government to feed children who are on the poverty line to pulling out the performances for United to fire the goals is something that Rashford has done throughout the month of October. Since earning his MBE the 22-year-old has continue to give both on and off the pitch, earning the plaudits for both. He scored his first senior hat-trick against Leipzig on Wednesday evening, showing his true grit and ability to drive United forward. He also scored at the Parc des Princes once again, the second time he has done so in his career – the winning goal each time. His hat-trick was the quickest ever in the Champions League (27 minutes from start to finish).

Fred – five appearances (four starts), 384 minutes – becoming a big game player?

The Brazilian has been paired with Scott McTominay in a midfield pivot in three matches in October; Newcastle United (4-1), Paris Saint-Germain (2-1) and Chelsea (0-0), coming off the bench against Spurs and starting in a midfield diamond against RB Leipzig (5-0). Fred’s positional intelligence was one of the main reasons for him starting this month but his work-rate against Leipzig was immense which became his and United’s best performance of the month going from that big defeat to Spurs to a big victory, seemingly turning a full circle. United are yet to lose a match that Fred has started; in six starts United have won five and drawn one.

Notable Mentions: David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba.

David De Gea has played 450 minutes of football in October and started the month with an all time low conceding six goals at Old Trafford for the second time in his career. As the month grew on through, his confidence and form started to get much better. Against Newcastle, he started to inspire, continued that in Paris, then against Chelsea putting in a great performance against Leipzig on Wednesday. Harry Maguire played 360 minutes in October, again started badly conceding six to Spurs but grew as the month went on despite missing the PSG match to injury. He scored the equaliser against Newcastle and led by example during the month.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka has received praise this month for his performances. He scored his first goal for the club against Newcastle and has played 441 minutes and had some good performances against Newcastle, PSG and Leipzig. Scott McTominay played a total of 290 minutes in October, starting three of the five matches, coming off the bench for another. He played in a pivot with Fred for most of his matches, doing well for his club. Paul Pogba has played 247 minutes, coming off the bench more than starting. He seems to have found a new position in a diamond with Solskjaer playing with his tactics. Two assists for the Frenchman will hopefully inspire him more.

Who is your Player of the Month for October 2020?

A look at what lies ahead in November…

United will play six matches in November and Solskjaer will be looking to improve in the Premier League, carrying the form from the UEFA Champions League into the competition. United will play three matches at Old Trafford and three away from home in November, seeking to continue their good start to the Champions League season (two wins from two). United finished October sitting in 15th place in the Premier League, topping their group in the Champions League. If United can start November with a victory over Arsenal, carry that into their clash with Everton, those two matches could propel them up the table. November’s matches are against;

1/11 – Arsenal, Old Trafford – Premier League

4/11 – Istanbul Basaksehir, Fatih Terim Stadium – UEFA Champions League

7/11 – Everton, Goodison Park – Premier League

21/11 – West Bromwich Albion, Old Trafford – Premier League

24/11 – Istanbul Basaksehir, Old Trafford – UEFA Champions League

29/11 – Southampton, St Mary’s – Premier League

Written by John Walker

Fred confirms desire to remain a Manchester United player this summer

Manchester United midfielder Fred has seemingly put an end to the speculation linking him with an exit from the Old Trafford club this summer. In the past month or so, the Brazilian has been linked with a loan move to Turkish side Galatasaray, which seems to have come to nothing. There seems to be a reason why nothing has happened with the player remaining happy at the club despite the arrival of Donny van de Beek this summer, which could cut into his playing time this coming season.

United signed the Brazilian from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk for £53.1 million in the summer of 2018 but the was fair to say that the midfielder struggled in his debut season at the club, which also saw the end of Jose Mourinho who was sacked after a defeat to Liverpool in the Premier League with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replacing the Portuguese ‘Special One’. During the 2018/19 season, Fred made a total of 25 appearances, scoring one goal and one assist, which was not all that great and he seemed to not fit into the structure of the club.

However, during his first full season under Solskjaer, Fred seemed to pick up the pace, which was required after injuries to Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic (not all at the same time) with the Brazilian playing a more regular role in the squad and seeming to find his feet. Fred made a total of 48 appearances, scoring two goals and four assists during the 2019/20 season, which was put on hold because of the coronavirus pandemic, earning some praise from the manager and the supporters.

The 27-year-old will have seen the speculation linking him to Galatasaray earlier this summer and might use that as motivation to continue his career at the Old Trafford club under the reign on Solskjaer. With the likes of Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and now Van de Beek at the club, Fred’s role might be off the bench or in rotation but it will give Solskjaer some strength in midfield which might prompt a formation change in some matches which might require that. Speaking to FourFourTwo, Fred stated:

“I want to stay here – that’s my desire. I don’t want to leave. As I’ve always said, I want to be an important player and win trophies for this club.”

Van de Beek’s arrival might mean that Fred spends more time on the bench this season but the player seems to be happy with the Dutch international arriving at the club, which has strengthened the team, as the Brazilian has stated. United will be playing in the Premier League, hoping to mount a title challenge, returning to the UEFA Champions League, which will be much tougher than the UEFA Europa League, also playing in the Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup. Fred concluded by saying:

“[Van de Beek’s arrival] means we’re getting stronger and that’s good for everyone at United.

“We need more players for this season because it will be even more demanding: the calendar is crammed and we need a strong squad to compete for every title. When you play at a big club, there will always be competition – I’m used to it. It’s been like that from day one at United.

“We can’t say it was a good one, because we didn’t win a trophy. For a club like Manchester United, it’s not a good season without a title. We managed to reach three semi-finals but lost them all. We were close to our goals, but they just didn’t come our way – I was really confident that we would win something, but it didn’t happen.

“At least we managed to play good football at times during the campaign, and qualifying for the Champions League was very important because this club must be in that competition. It was crucial to get our place back, but that alone isn’t enough: we want to fight for that title, too.

“The good thing is that we’re improving as a team and I think we’re heading in the right direction. Trophies will come our way soon.”

Written by John Walker

Galatasaray interested in Fred this summer with loan spell and option to buy touted

In the summer of 2018, Manchester United signed Brazilian midfielder Fred for £52 million from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. Fred’s current contract at the Old Trafford club will expire in the summer of 2023, although United have the option of adding a further year on. Despite arriving under the management of Jose Mourinho, which was short-lived for Fred, now under the management of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he has only ever become a squad player at the club.

During the 2019/20 season, because of injuries to Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay, before the arrival of Bruno Fernandes during the January transfer window, Fred played a lot of football and started to build a period of form at the club. However, with Fernandes’ arrival and the return to fitness of Pogba, Matic and in some cases McTominay, Fred has seemed surplus to requirements at the club and the form he built was quickly depleted, which was a shame.

During the course of the season that was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, Fred made a total of 48 appearances in all competitions; Premier League, UEFA Europa League, Carabao Cup and the Emirates FA Cup, scoring two goals and four assists. In his time at United so far, the Brazilian midfielder has made a total of 73 appearances, scoring three goals and five assists – which is not all that great for a player that cost as much as he did. It is unlikely that United would see much of the fee they paid for the player two years ago.

Turkish outfit Fotomac has reported that Galatasaray are interested in signing Fred this summer, initially on a loan spell with the option to buy, which is probably the best that United would get for the player at this moment in time, if they are looking to end his stay with the club. Galatasaray manager Fatih Terim is desperate to sign a midfielder this summer after Southampton’s Mario Lemina and Fulham’s Jean Michael Seri both returned to their clubs following loan spells at the club.

Fred, 27, would be classed as an experienced player at the club but in terms of playing regularly, the likes of Fernandes, 25, Pogba, 27, Matic 32 and McTominay, 23, would all be ahead of him. That is before you even talk about Donny van de Beek, 23, who is linked to the Old Trafford club at this moment in time with United leading the race to sign the midfielder this summer. United are also linked to Bayern Munich midfielder Thiago Alcantara, which could see Fred’s stay at United close to coming to an end.

If United were to sign Van de Beek this summer, it would be costly for Fred as the Dutchman would play more often than he would, as would Pogba, Fernandes and Matic. McTominay might also feature more than the Brazilian, especially if he recovers the form that saw him score a brilliant goal against Manchester City earlier this year in what was the last match to have supporters inside the stadium at the Theatre of Dreams. If this report is true, it could give a suggestion as to whether United are in fact interested in signing more than one midfielder this summer.

Written by John Walker

Brazilian midfielder Fred has been instrumental to Manchester United’s season, says Peter Schmeichel

Former Manchester United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel has hailed former teammate and current manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for giving Brazilian midfielder Fred the platform to play an instrumental role at the club this season. Under Jose Mourinho, Fred did not have the best of times, seemingly scapegoated for the clubs demise.

However, since Solskjaer became the manager of the club, Fred has changed his fortunes at the club, looking like the midfielder he was tipped to be, raising his game considerably after having a long spell in the team because of injury. Schmeichel, who was speaking to CNN via Instagram Live, spoke about the Brazilian, saying:

“Fred has been, for me, absolutely instrumental in how well the club has done this season.

“He was always perfect for the club but he’s now been given playing time and the more time he’s been given, the more confidence he’s gained and for me, he’s been one of the great stories this season at Manchester United.

“Of course it’s down to Fred but it’s down to Ole for giving him that confidence. I like that.”

Ever since the start of the current season, which was delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic, which suspended world football in mid-March, Solskjaer has shown that he is willing to give chances to players who have not quite got there in terms of playability for various reasons, giving them a chance to show what they can do.

For Fred, this seems to have worked so far. This season, the Brazilian has made a total of 39 appearances, playing in the Premier League, the Carabao Cup, the UEFA Europa League, and the Emirates FA Cup, scoring two goals and four assists – all coming in the Europa League this season. Schmeichel, concluding his interview about Fred, said:

“I like the way he’s [Solskjaer] kind of introduced players that were already there but are now in the first team and are now playing well.

“He’s also brought all these values in. The players now know them. If you don’t share our values, there’s no place for you here. So you have to live up to his values.

“He’s bringing in his own culture and you can see it and it’s there and it’s brilliant.”

February Review: Fernandes, Fred and Martial the players to talk about with De Gea, Shaw, McTominay and Ighalo honourably mentioned

Manchester United played five times in February because of the winter break which has been implemented into the fixture schedule. United started the month at home to Wolverhampton Wanderers, a match which saw Bruno Fernandes make his first appearance for the club. It was a 0-0 draw, a match that should have been much better. It would be two weeks before United played again because of the winter break.

On the 17th February, United beat Chelsea 2-0 at Stamford Bridge – a match which saw Fernandes do what he was doing in Portugal – getting his first assist with Anthony Martial and Harry Maguire scoring the goals in the game. Chelsea did score twice – both ruled out by VAR. United then faced Club Brugge on the 20 February in the UEFA Europa League round of 32 first leg, a 1-1 draw with Martial scoring United’s goal.

Next up for United was Watford in the Premier League on the 23 February, a 3-0 victory for United with Fernandes scoring his first goal for the club with Martial and Mason Greenwood scoring the other goals. It was a much-needed win in the league with United keeping the chase on Chelsea in the race for a top four finish – sitting just three points adrift of the London club in fifth place in the league.

The final match of February came against Club Brugge in the Europa League round of 32 second leg, a 5-0 victory for United. Fernandes scored his second goal for the club with Scott McTominay, Odion Ighalo – scoring his first goal and a brace for Fred. It ended a good month for United, which could have started better. However, United are now on a seven-match unbeaten run and seeking to continue that in March.

Bruno Fernandes – five appearances, 344 minutes, two goals, two assists and three Man of the Match awards.

The Portuguese midfielder has been a breath of fresh air after arriving at the club during the January transfer window. In five appearances for his new club, he has scored two goals, two assists and been named the club’s MOTM three times. Fernandes has shown United what they had ben missing for the first part of the season and seemingly solved their creativity crisis almost immediately – performing well against Wolves, despite playing a central midfield role because of injury and suspension. Fernandes will be seeking to continue his form into March, helping United achieve this season with a place in the Champions League next season the main prize although two trophies are still effectively on the table.

Anthony Martial – four appearances, 327 minutes, three goals and one Man of the Match award.

The Frenchman has improved recently, which could well be done to the fact Fernandes arrived at the club. Martial has now scored 15 goals this season and despite missing the Club Brugge second leg match at Old Trafford due to injury, he could still have a big part to play this season. Martial has played 2,344 minutes of football this season, playing in 11 of the last 12 matches. Martial is a talented player but looking at the way Odion Ighalo played against Brugge on Thursday, Martial may need to do more leading the line.

Fred – five appearances, 368 minutes, two goals, one assist and one Man of the Match awards.

The Brazilian midfielder has played a lot of football this season, playing a total of 2,714 minutes of football in all competitions up to and including the victory over Club Brugge. Fred has showed a lot of improvement this season and giving him the playing time seems to have done that. On Thursday at Old Trafford he scored a brace and was involved heavily in the result that saw United reach the last 16 in the Europa League. Fred may cause problems in midfield when Paul Pogba is back as I do not believe the Brazilian should just be dropped to the bench.

Notable Mentions: David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Scott McTominay, and Odion Ighalo

David De Gea may not be one of the star players for February but he has showed signs of returning to form. In three appearances – 270 minutes, the Spanish goalkeeper has kept two clean sheets in a month where United have kept four clean sheets in five matches. Luke Shaw is one of only two players to play 90 minutes in each of the five matches played in February playing 450 minutes of football. He has adapted to a new position in defence some of the time rising his form and giving his all for United.

Scott McTominay has only just returned to action following a lengthy spell on the sidelines through injury, playing 83 minutes of football over two matches, scoring one goal, which was great to see. It is important to see him back in the team strengthening the midfield in a way only he can do. Lastly, Odion Ighalo will have dreamed about the last month many times during his life. He’s played 128 minutes of football and during each appearance he has been close to scoring, finally doing that on Thursday at Old Trafford on his first start.

Who is your Player of the Month for February 2020?

A look at what lies ahead in March…

United could play seven matches in March where Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be seeking to keep chase on a top four finish in the Premier League, reach the quarter-finals of the Emirates FA Cup and reach the quarter final stage of the UEFA Europa League. United matches for March 2020 are as follows;

1 March – Everton, Goodison Park – Premier League

5 March – Derby County, Pride Park – Emirates FA Cup

8 March – Manchester City, Old Trafford – Premier League

12 March – LASK, Linzer Stadion – UEFA Europa League

15 March – Tottenham Hotspur, THFC Stadium – Premier League

18 March – LASK, Old Trafford – UEFA Europa League

21 March – Sheffield United, Old Trafford – Premier League

Looking at Manchester United’s midfield depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United’s midfield is somewhat depleted following the departure of Marouane Fellaini in January and Ander Herrera leaving the club as a free agent in the summer. At least that is what the moaning relates to as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer should have strengthened the midfield during the summer transfer window.

However, the Norwegian opted to sign a winger instead, in Daniel James, who arrived for £15 million from Swansea City. It was a summer that saw Paul Pogba state to the media that he wanted a new challenge and one which saw United linked to a number of different midfielders. Bruno Fernandes was linked to the club for the entire summer window.

Some will suggest that United’s midfield is weak and there are no positives should Pogba actually leave before the European window closes, or if he suffers from an injury. However, as an optimist, I see options, not great options but options for players to grow and learn a place in the midfield. However, some will not be happy with this fix.

Defensive midfield depth; a player on the decline or players lacking experience.

Nemanja Matic is the player with experience in the defensive midfield position. But as last season and during pre-season has clearly shown, the Serbian has lost his pace, is slow and on the decline. Based on this, he will not be expected to play a big role at the club this season. There are players under him with less experience.

At this moment in time, Scott McTominay will start ahead of Matic as he has been offering more to the team than Matic can at the minute, possibly for the future too. In rotation, McTominay could be challenged by Andreas Pereira and Tim Fosu-Mensah, once he has recovered from knee surgery. Another option is James Garner.

It might not be something that you would consider great depth but it is still depth nonetheless. McTominay has developed into a decent midfielder and that has not finished for him. Having the likes of Pereira, Fosu-Mensah and Garner, also Matic means there are options there if there needs to be. Solskjaer has a plan and he will follow that plan.

Central midfield depth; Pogba has little competition for a starting central midfield role.

In this position, Paul Pogba is the player that others will need to get past in order to play regularly, at least in the 4-2-3-1 formation with only two midfielders. In another formation, say 4-3-3, a third midfielder would be given the chance to earn their place in the team. However, the 4-2-3-1 formation has been used most often by Solskjaer.

If Pogba was to be injured or was rested keeping in mind bigger matches during the course of the season, the likes of Fred and Andreas Pereira could replace him in the team. Fred could also play as a defensiveminded midfielder but this being his second season, it would be best to see him play this role. Garner too, however, it may be too soon for him.

Pereira has done well, however, I am not sure the centre of midfield is where Pereira should be playing; he played on the right-wing for periods against Chelsea last weekend. The depth here is not the greatest but it will have to do, until January at least when Solskjaer may make a move to strengthen his squad. Failing that, it will be next summer.

The formation above shows the depth of the midfield. There are seven players competing for a central midfield role, of which in the current formation, two will start each match. If the formation changes, there could be a further place available in the team. There is some strengthening needed but that doesn’t just mean buying players.

There are many players in the team that could be used in these positions if the need arises. I am sure Juan Mata could play a central role, as could Angel Gomes. It might not be ideal but it could work. However, with the seven names to fortify these positions, it would take a long injury list to ensure Solskjaer played other players out of their favoured positions.

The depth is there, although it is not as magnificent as it might be. But the way I look at things, the depth of the squad, at least in the striker role was not great in the 2015/16 season and after Anthony Martial injured himself in the warm-up ahead of the Midtjylland match, Marcus Rashford may not have had the impact in which he’s had. Every cloud and all that!

copyright: JW