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During Fred’s early months in the Premier League, it would be fair to say that many Manchester City fans will have felt that their team had dodged a bullet.
Before his move to Manchester’s red side, speculation abounded that Pep Guardiola had identified Fred, at Shakhtar Donetsk at the time, as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho in midfield.
Fred had earned a reputation as an effective area-to-area midfielder who could have an impact both on and off the ball.
But it was difficult to see what possessed Manchester United to overtake City with their £ 55m signing during the 2018-19 season as they struggled with the pace of the game and did not appear to offer anything particularly outstanding to either part of the team. United unity.
However, as highlighted by the past year, especially this season, Fred has become one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s most trusted people.
As United host City at Old Trafford in Wednesday’s EFL Cup semi-final, Fred has another chance to show why that’s the case.
Who gets your vote for the final? #MUFC Player of the Month Award
– Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 30, 2020
Fred may have only started 10 of United’s 16 Premier League games this term, but a telling pattern emerges when you look at which games they were.
Between those games, he was in Solskjaer’s lineup for outings against Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Southampton, City, Leeds United, Leicester City and Aston Villa.
All of them are, of course, rivals of the ‘big six’ or teams pushing to be in the upper echelons of the Premier League this season. He was hired at halftime in the 6-1 demolition by Tottenham, and while he barely held off the Spurs, they were at least unbridled in the second half.
It can’t be a coincidence that this is the type of game Fred has been used most often in, and Solskjaer clearly values the qualities of the midfielder off the ball as United look to absorb spring pressure and counterattacks.
That will likely be the tactic again when United host EFL Cup champion City in Wednesday’s semi-final, a one-legged replay of last season’s two-game tie in the same round.
A year after the 2019-20 first leg, Solskjaer will expect a rather different result as City, opting for a false nine, invaded United’s midfield and hit it at Old Trafford that day, deservedly winning 3-1. .
There are likely only four players from United’s starting XI from a year ago that line up on Wednesday, with Fred as one of them. The commotion in the squad has been significant, but it is telling that the Brazilian is one of those who still plays a role, and also an important one.
He may have been disappointed again with a red card against Paris Saint-Germain, but it seems that Solskjaer accepted responsibility for that incident.
– Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 28, 2020
FRED THE FACILITATOR
It seems highly unlikely that Fred will ever be in the running for any of the Premier League’s end-of-season individual awards – he doesn’t score or believe enough, and his influence can’t be said to resemble N’Golo’s. Kante on the Leicester City team that won the title.
But one player who is sure to be a candidate for individual gongs is Bruno Fernandes, and players like him need colleagues like Fred to thrive.
The Brazilian international is complete and has the technical ability to provide support in offensive situations, such as his prolific exchanges with Paul Pogba against Aston Villa last time out.
But Fred is undoubtedly more effective when his team is not in possession, with his 49 tackles more than any other United or City midfielder in all competitions this season.
It’s a similar story with his interception count. Fred has done 30 in 2020-21, five more than Rodrigo, who ranks second among United and City engine room players. That’s despite the fact that Fred despite playing more than 400 minutes less than the City’s Spain international. Of course City generally have more of the ball than United, but Fred’s conscience still stands out.
Critics might point out that his 12 key passes are a pretty meager total, but with Bruno Fernandes (69) creating chances so frequently, one could argue that it doesn’t matter; after all, Fred is not being put on the team to be a creator.
Interestingly, in the league since January 1 last year, United have a worse winning percentage (50) with Fred in the starting eleven than without him (71.4), although this is clearly skewed by the fact that it is often reserved for parties. against better opposition.
But what’s remarkable about this time period is that United concede fewer shots (10.3 per game) on average when Fred starts. That goes up to 12.1 shots per 90 minutes when he’s not in the first XI, while the team’s own shot count increases from 12.4 to 15 in each game with the International youth product on the side.
Opta’s advanced passing data reflects favorably on Fred as well, particularly regarding the start of three open play sequences that ended in a goal, which is the second highest set in the Premier League this period.
He has also started four open play passing sequences that led to a shot, which only Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Fernandes can improve on in the Red Devils squad.
– Manchester United (@ManUtd) December 13, 2020
INADEQUATE, UNDER-APPRECIATED, BUT NOT USELESS
Fred is perhaps the type of player that many would consider expendable, and perhaps he is in certain games. He rarely stands out as an individual, certainly not as much as Fernandes and Marcus Rashford say, and much of his work can go unnoticed.
But many of us inadvertently look at players in isolation and by their individual numbers, rather than how they fit into the collective. Sure, Fred doesn’t create many opportunities, but what he offers United without the ball is apparently vital for Solskjaer.
Fred may not be the player that many United fans expected two and a half years ago, but he has certainly shown that he is not a fiasco.