Entering the lockdown period, Fred was one of the lead contenders to win Manchester United’s player of the year award.
He answered questions posed by an indifferent first season at United and made the £47 million the club spent on him in 2018 look like money well spent.
Now he certainly has not become a bad player overnight again, but it is accurate to say he has lost all the momentum he picked up between October and February, in which he started every single Premier League match.
The FA Cup semi-final was a case in point. Fred was brought back into the side, and lasted just 55 minutes before he was substituted.
It was not a surprise. He won two tackles but contributed very little else. No United player managed to shine, but Fred did not have the excuse of fatigue. He was fresh, and United needed a little more from him.
Bad time to lose momentum
Prior to the lockdown Fred’s season was beginning to peak. He was adding attacking contributions to his already solid midfield game, with three assists and two goals in his last five matches before football was shut down.
Instead of carrying on where he left off, Fred has come back flat, and has failed to offer much inspiration, apart from one very good cameo performance against a poor Bournemouth side when United had already scored five.
Solskjaer gave Fred an opportunity to start United’s first game of the restart, and didn’t simply move him aside for Paul Pogba. But even in that game against Tottenham he was pretty uninspired.
Then a week later in the FA Cup quarter-final away at Norwich, Fred had a chance to kick on and show what he could do. He didn’t show much, and as a result of that poor display, he has had to wait a month for another starting opportunity.
So perhaps the lack of football did not help him against Chelsea, although Solskjaer would have hoped that the freshness he could provide could counter that.
He has made three starts now since lockdown, and has been substituted early in all of them. But on the flip side, when he has come on, he has largely been ineffective, with a poor display against Southampton a particular concern, where he touched the ball just 12 times in 30 minutes plus injury time.
Unless there is an injury, Fred is not just going to walk back into the side. He needs to play well, and give Solskjaer a reason to play him. It would now be a surprise if he started in either of the remaining two league games against West Ham and Leicester.
Learning more about him
It is in this moment we are learning more about Fred. About the limitations he still needs to overcome.
We have no doubt that if Fred was playing more regularly, his form would pick up. He is player who appears to need rhythm, and regular football, to play at his best.
Even looking back to when he came into form for United, really kicking on in December, there were some games in October and November where he struggled, with the away defeat to Newcastle and draw away at AZ Alkmaar two cases in point.
He benefitted from Paul Pogba’s injury and got a regular run in the side.
Now he is back to playing second fiddle, which might be where he should be, but he needs to learn to make the most of this role, and not get lost in the shuffle.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants his bench players to give him a positive selection problem, and Fred is not doing that at present.
It would be wrong to say Fred has gone backwards and that we are back at square one with the Brazilian. This season has been one of progress.
When all is said and done, Fred will still be one of the contenders for the player of the season award, he has made good progress, but probably he has lost his chance of winning it after a poor post-lockdown stretch.
He has taken steps this season to improve and as a squad player, Fred is valuable, with his fitness and durability proving to be one of his assets during a very testing time through December and January.
We should not lose sight of his contribution in the first part of the season, when looking at just the past few weeks.
Those performances only raised expectations, we know he is capable of more. Hopefully he can kick on if he does get any more opportunities in the league or Europa League.
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