Trying to get to the bottom of Fred’s up and down season at Manchester United brought about a little theory in midweek.
Fred thrives only when there is chaos around him, and not when there is a more rigid structure he must adhere to.
First let’s go back and look at his season, which at one stage saw legitimate ‘player of the year’ shouts from supporters.
He then made it into the side as a regular after Paul Pogba’s injury.
This was in itself a chaotic time as United’s midfield struggled with injuries, and a lack of creativity.
Fred has struggled to shine in a reduced role, starting just one league match, and four in the cup competitions.
The match against FC Copenhagen was a different test for the Brazilian, partnering Paul Pogba and playing in a deeper role.
He did not have a great game, but in the second half as the match begun to get stretched, Fred begun to shine and was unlucky to be taken off when he was growing increasingly influential.
It is in these moments Fred is best
It is when games are end-to-end, frenetic, quick-paced matches that Fred’s instinctive talents kick in.
He is quick to intercept, win balls back, and set United away on the counter attack.
When you look back to his best performances this season, you would say they were in the away win over Manchester City in the Premier League in December, at home to City in March, and even in defeat away at Liveroool at Anfield.
In that game he was United’s driving force and pushed us back to the brink of claiming a draw before we were hit on the counter attack. He had 98 touches, more than any player on the pitch. United were up against it, and he shone, despite the loss.
In other games when United’s midfield was also undermanned and overwhelmed, at home to Villa when he was left partnering Andreas Pereira in the middle, Fred shone, creating three chances and winning three interceptions and two tackles.
You can even look back to his best performance in his first season, it was a starring role when United scrapped our way past PSG at the Parc-des-Princes in a crazy, dramatic match.
The more a game gets out of control, in terms of speed, Fred’s qualities come to the fore. The problem is, this is not necessarily what United want.
United don’t set out to create chaos
It is far more preferable for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his United side to control matches and have situations we can dictate.
This is why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer prefers using both Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic to Fred.
There is still a role for Fred at United, but when he comes in and is expected to perform in a slower paced midfield, it does not quite work.
There was something about his partnership with Scott McTominay which really did work.
McTominay lacks the defensive discipline of Matic, and this brought out Fred’s firefighting side, allowing him to cover for the young Scot.
But next to Matic or Pogba, Fred has more time and space as team sit off United and sit deeper. This is where he struggles a little more, compared to when games get stretched and there are more spaces to exploit, more instinctively.
So what do United do next?
United’s coaching staff have done a good job with Fred this past season and there have been considerable improvements in his game over the past 12 months.
The above is not necessarily a criticism of his performances, at times he has been excellent, this is more an observation of when and why he shines, and when he doesn’t.
So United need to work out whether the limitations in Fred’s game can be improved upon.
Can he play a more disciplined defensive role? Can he find the poise to play defence cutting passes when teams sit deep?
If he can improve in these areas then Fred can work his way back into the side as a first choice.
But if he cannot, then Fred will be accepted for what he is, a very good squad player, who is proven if required in case of injury, but not necessarily one who will be the ‘next level superstar’ we hoped who can produce 9/10 ratings performances.
Considering the disappointment of his first season though, being a 7/10 player most weeks is enough, and he will be appreciated for it, yet there is no harm in aspiring for more.
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