Manchester United did not quite field a ‘full-strength’ team selection against FC Copenhagen.
In midfield Nemanja Matic was rested, no doubt with a view to the semi-final (a decision we just about got away with), and Fred was given a chance.
This came two years to the day to Fred’s debut, and still United are uncertain whether his midfield partnership with Paul Pogba is one which can work.
This was the first time since the restart that Fred and Pogba have started a game together.
The only time they started a game together previously this season was the EFL Cup game against Rochdale, a match which also required extra-time (and penalties) for United to win.
Prior to that Fred and Pogba had a run starting alongside each other at the end of the 2018/19 season, and it went badly, with United losing five of those six matches, including a 4-0 home loss to Everton, 3-0 defeat to Barcelona, and a 2-1 loss against potential semi-final opponents Wolves.
So how did this one go?
Fred started the game poorly and he was caught in possession early allowing Copenhagen to threaten United’s goal.
He does not offer the same assurance as Matic does in a defensive midfield role and there were gaps which the Danes were able to exploit.
As the game went on, Fred became more influential. He played more of a role in United’s attacks, winning the ball back to recycle possession, and even having a shot on target himself.
Matic’s substitution felt like an inevitability, but it came at a time when Fred was beginning to really get on top of the game.
He had 86 touches in 69 minutes, winning two tackles and making three interceptions. He also completed 90 per cent of his passes.
Matic brought a steadiness to the game, but he did not particularly stand out above Fred when he came on, unlike in games against Tottenham and Crystal Palace when he was a second half substitute and made a big impact.
This can be useful
The Pogba and Fred combination is not one Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be rushing to repeat in the semi-final.
But it remains an option, and at times next season, United will no doubt take a further look when the situation demands it.
Fred has improved a lot since the 2018/19 season, while Pogba is playing with an extra level of motivation too.
The more game time they get together, the better their partnership will become. This game will be useful for them both.
This is a combination which needs work, and is not the answer right now, but it could become an effective pairing in the future.
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