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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!

Is Manchester United the right team for Fred? What next for the Brazilian midfielder?

Manchester United secured the signing of Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos, known as Fred, from Ukrainian giants Shakhtar Donetsk in June of last year for a reported fee of £47 million. The Brazilian, 26, had also been the subject of interest from rivals Manchester City, after impressing in the 2017/18 UEFA Champions League. Fred, who missed the beginning of United’s current pre-season tour, faces a battle for a place at the club, who are also reportedly seeking reinforcements in midfield.

He has yet to convince United supporters of his worth, having been unable to produce his best for the team on a regular basis. He has also made a number of errors that have directly led to conceded goals, further reducing his standing among United fans. This patchy form at the club has also resulted in him being in and out of the Brazilian national team, something which he would no doubt like to correct.

United were able to secure Fred’s signature ahead of local rivals City, having also done the same for the disappointing Alexis Sánchez a few months earlier. Questions were then raised over whether he would suit then-manager José Mourinho’s preferred style of play, as it was believed that his energetic displays in midfield, combined with his ability to win back and progress the ball, is what attracted the attention of City manager Pep Guardiola.

These two signings also caused concern among United fans, who begun to believe that the club were signing players simply to spite their rivals as opposed to recruiting players who are suited to and would improve the first team. Many believe that Sánchez and Fred were not Mourinho’s preferred additions to the team at the time they were purchased. Mourinho was later dismissed by United after a disastrous start to the 2018/19 season, leaving Fred having to fight for a place under a new manager while still relatively new to the club, all the while trying to adapt to a league which is probably the most demanding on the planet.

These struggles have inevitably led to him being linked with a move away from the club, perhaps to reunite with his former Shakhtar manager Paulo Fonseca, at his new club AS Roma. At a glance, a transfer seems unlikely, given Roma’s recent purchase of Guinean midfielder Amadou Diawara, as well as the size of the fee United paid for Fred. In recent times, the club has expressed a desire to recoup their outlays whenever they’ve looked to sell players, probably pricing I Giallorossi out of a move.

United have obtained fees nearly equal to what was paid for the likes of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin, while they are also looking for something similar with regards to current players Matteo Darmian and Romelu Lukaku. While Fred himself has not made any statement about his future, a transfer to Italy would probably suit him, given the higher success rate of Brazilian players in Serie A when compared to the Premier League.

The size of the fee paid for Fred naturally led to increased expectation from supporters, who have so far been disappointed. He has also been used in different roles in midfield, something which has made it a little more difficult for him to adapt to the Premier League. His skillset makes him most suited to being the playmaking half of a double pivot in midfield, most likely in a 4-2-3-1 formation, as United have used so far in pre-season.

Coincidentally, this is also the role Fred occupied at Shakhtar, where he was often deployed alongside a specialist defensive midfielder, usually Ukrainian Taras Stepanenko. Fred was tasked with using his energy to get himself about the pitch and win the ball back for his team, before progressing it forward, while Stepanenko focused on subduing the opposition playmaker. This, in turn, gave more freedom to Shakhtar’s army of attacking midfielders, which included the likes of Alex Teixeira, Brazil international Taison, Brazil-born Ukrainian international Marlos, as well as Everton’s Bernard.

These players thrived operating behind a lone striker, as they were allowed to take up more advanced positions to support him, often being played in by Fred after he had hunted down possession. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer used this formation to great success last season as the freedom afforded to Paul Pogba by the deep-lying midfield duo of Nemanja Matić and the now-departed Ander Herrera led to the Frenchman’s most productive season in attack and eventual inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year.

Fred has also been used by Solskjaer as the deep-lying midfielder, most notably in the first leg of the Champions League quarter-final tie against FC Barcelona. Fred and Scott McTominay, who was deployed further forward on that occasion, performed well on the evening, despite United suffering a 1-0 defeat. United played that game without a recognised defensive midfielder and it was no surprise that Fred relied heavily on assistance from midfield cohorts McTominay and Pogba when it came to trying to stop Barça’s attacks or in resisting their attempts to press him into giving away possession.

This is one of the weaker areas of his game that has been exploited by the opposition during his time in England. Notable instances of this are when he dived in on Alexandre Lacazette to give away a penalty against Arsenal in the league and when he slipped and lost possession while under pressure in the FA Cup against Wolverhampton Wanderers, allowing them to score. Both of these games resulted in United defeats, lowering his standing among supporters.

Fred, however, should be focusing on the coming season, with United hoping to have a much-improved defence, perhaps even with defenders more capable of playing the ball out from the back themselves. This would reduce the workload of the deep-lying midfielder and could even render the playmaking half of the role obsolete. Should this be the case, United could deploy Matić as the deepest midfielder and give him the primary responsibility of breaking down opposition attacks and merely recycling possession to his teammates.

Fred could still be of use to United further forward if this were the approach Solskjaer were to prefer. His energy and ball-winning abilities make him an ideal candidate for a box-to-box role in a 4-3-3 formation although Fred’s own lack of goals and assists, when combined with Paul Pogba’s often lacklustre defending, creates an imbalance within midfield. This is likely why Solskjær opted for the aforementioned 4-2-3-1, which resulted in a more balanced team as well as a more productive Pogba.

The onus is of course on the manager to make the correct selection and approach based on the players he has available, as well as the level of quality of the opposition. Fred could also form part of special tactical plans concocted by United’s coaching staff, based on the information they’ve collected pertaining to the opposition. The number of options available to Solskjaer may also increase, as United are seemingly on the hunt for another midfield player.

Whether it is another defensive midfielder or a more creative one remains to be seen. Injuries have also previously limited Solskjaer’s options. Matić, who is the only specialist defensive midfielder in United’s first team, suffered injuries that had him sidelined for some of the more definitive periods of the 2018/19 season. It’s clear to see that Fred, along with compatriot Andreas Pereira and youth team graduates McTominay and James Garner, will have a role to play for United this season, particularly during periods of injury or suspension for regulars Pogba and Matić.

In concluding, it is worth noting that even the best foreign players in the Premier League all took some time to get used to the pace and intensity of the league. That being said, United fans are right to worry that Fred may go the way of Kléberson, a key member of Brazil’s World Cupwinning squad in 2002, who afterwards had a less than impressive tenure at Old Trafford. Kléberson’s former teammate Solskjaer will be hoping Fred comes good this season, and he certainly won’t be alone.

Written by Shiven Nayager

How will Jose Mourinho get the best out of his midfield options this season?

Manchester United spent £65 million on the addition on Brazilian central midfielder Fred formerly of Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. The 25-year-old joins a selection of six other midfield options at Jose Mourinho’s disposal for this season and with this in mind Mourinho will have to try very hard to get the best out of all of them. Whilst the multitude of options gives some much-needed squad depth in that position it can also pose problems with trying to keep them all happy with the amount of game time that they get whilst also trying to maintain a consistency in performance.

Stability in midfield is crucial to a winning formula which will be difficult to achieve with the swapping and changing that may have to occur. United tend to favour a 4-3-3 formation which was demonstrated in their first game of the season with a 2-1 win over Leicester City on Friday night. The three across the middle was also a prominent feature of last season’s campaign after the Reds completed the signing of Nemanja Matic in the summer transfer window.

Paul Pogba was made captain for the first game and will most likely be one of the first names on every Mourinho team sheet but the other two positions will be hotly contested by the other six candidates. However, it will be difficult for Mourinho to drop the samba paring of Andreas Pereira and Fred that featured against the Foxes as they provided some much-needed flair and excitement to an otherwise slow midfield. However, last season Matic was one of the manager’s favourites and will most likely take Pereira’s place once he is back to full fitness.

However, this still leaves question marks over the likes of Ander Herrera, Scott McTominay and Marouane Fellaini and how they will fit into the side. Herrera in particular was very impressive last season with many key performances which were somewhat underappreciated by many. When he features Herrera is not afraid to take the ball deep in his own half from the back line and get the attack moving forward rather than sideways which was something that United lacked last season. Herrera may be able to provide Mourinho balance in the midfield with a player who can go box-to-box and be effective in both

Herrera may be able to provide Mourinho balance in the midfield with a player who can go box-to-box and be effective in both halves of the pitch. As for McTominay and Fellaini they may have to get used to appearances from the bench and performing when called upon them as they try to battle back into contention for a first team starting place.

It may also be in Mourinho’s best interests to use players who will suit to playing the opposition. This would allow for rotation of options within the midfield for a tactical purpose rather than on a performance basis. For example, next week’s clash on the south coast against Brighton and Hove Albion will be a difficult away test for United which may warrant some more stability in the midfield with the inclusion of some more defensive-minded players such as McTominay and Herrera.

Even though consistency is key it will be important for the manager to rotate throughout the course of the season with the different competitions and injuries which will undoubtedly be hurdles to be crossed.  Mourinho is the type of manager that he is will be eagerly wanting to establish his best combination to be his go-to men for the whole of the season but will also be looking for the players who are not his first choices to make an impact when they are called upon. However, there is no doubt that the squad depth at Manchester United will make their midfield one of the strongest in the league.

Written by Ciaran Coyle

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

copyright: JW