A big challenge awaits Fred when the Premier League restarts. He needs to show he can win a game with Paul Pogba alongside him in the Manchester United starting line-up.
Through no fault of his own, Fred faces being left on the sidelines if United use a three-man midfield in the opening game against Tottenham, with Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic the most-likely starting trio.
Fred has had an excellent season, and he will be important to United over the next nine games.
What he really needs to do, is show that he can play with Paul Pogba. He hasn’t started a game with the Frenchman all season in the Premier League.
It hasn’t worked before
Fred and Paul Pogba is not a combination which has paid off when it has been trialled.
They have started just one match together this season, in the EFL Cup match at home to Rochdale, which ended 1-1, before United won on penalties.
Fred began the season on the sidelines, before Pogba picked up an injury which has kept him out since, and only after that did the Brazilian’s role increase.
But we did get a closer look at a Fred and Paul Pogba partnership at the end of 2018/19, and it wasn’t pretty.
United lost five out of six games Fred and Pogba started together.
These included a 2-0 loss to Arsenal, 2-1 to Wolves, 4-0 to Everton, and 2-0 to City, only managing a 2-1 win over West Ham during this stretch of league games from February to April last year.
There was a 3-0 loss at the Nou Camp to Barcelona in there too, in which both players started.
The win over West Ham in April 2019, 14 months ago, was the last time Fred and Pogba started a game together which United won.
Add in the Rochdale cup tie and United have won just one of the last seven matches Pogba and Fred have started together.
Fred has improved since. And Paul Pogba is capable of more. But they have to gel together, and time is limited.
One of the questions over Pogba and Fred is whether together they have the right balance as a attacking and defensive combination.
Fred and Scott McTominay have worked well together over the season because they have built up an understanding, and the young Scot is more defensively industrious than Pogba.
McTominay is a better candidate to partner Pogba than Fred, as is Nemanja Matic, who is a specialised defensive midfielder, who gives Pogba greater license to get forward.
It’s up to Fred to fix this, and show that he can dig in and do more defensive work and be more disciplined, if he is partnered with Pogba.
Otherwise he will end up simply being a Pogba stand-in, waiting for an opportunity when the Frenchman is rested or unfit.
United spent £47 million on Fred with the intention he would be his partner. Not his deputy.
One of the combinations we have been denied through injury has been a Pogba, Fred and McTominay trio, with the Frenchman operating as a number 10.
This may still be an option to United if we look to give Bruno Fernandes a rest, and in this system, Pogba and Fred may strike up a better understanding, if McTominay or Matic is also in there to help mop up.
Failing that, this new challenge is one Fred needs to rise to. It’s a test, yet given what he has achieved this season, it’s one we should have faith that he can rise to. We want it to work, we just need to see it.
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