Fred: An underappreciated jewel of Manchester United
Fred’s arrival at Manchester United back in June 2018 was seen as an unprecedented victory over their arch-rivals Manchester City rather than being an overriding addition to a slumping midfield.
The £52m that United paid Shakhtar Donetsk for the Brazilian was always going to cause an uproar, but given the exploits he had demonstrated in Ukraine during his five-year tenure, it was obvious for the United faithful to just overlook the finances and delve deeper into the issue at hand.
He made a promising start to his new life in England – a decent performance against Leicester City in the 2018/19 Premier League opener – but soon the form took a hit. The slump went down to an extent that he was limited to just 17 league appearances that season, scoring a solitary goal.
Failing to adapt to the new environment is something that almost every Premier League import has experienced at one point, and Fred didn’t back out in his self-criticism.
"I believe the first season was very difficult for me," he told the Associated Press. "There was the process of settling down here, but also other personal things that were happening in my life, such as the birth of my son.
"So I believe it was a mix of reasons that made me have an awful first season."
With a change in the managerial position midway through the 2018/19 season, United themselves were in transition, and so was Fred’s form. That, followed by a substandard return of a solitary goal in his debut season, saw the £52m pricetag he carried along from Ukraine becoming a daunting reality to deal with.
Naturally, all the expectations were put to rest as United entered the 2019/20 season under their new manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. And maybe that’s exactly what was necessary at the time. He did miss United’s first four games of the season and came off the bench in the following three, but the momentum that followed was exhilarating.
Goals, on the other hand, were still few and far between for the Brazilian, but the way he trickled in, breaking up the opposition’s play was duly appreciated by the fans. Solskjaer, for all we know, has injected new life in Fred’s Manchester United career.
Deployed deeper alongside a midfield partner, a thrust in form has helped United put in better performances. Rather than plunging forward runs like before, the 27-year-old is tasked to perform the dirty defensive work by the Norwegian, and it is safe to say he has duly excelled at it.
Diving into the statistics, Fred has averaged two tackles per game in the Premier League. Only Aaron Wan-Bissaka has averaged more in the United squad. A further bifurcation sees him averaging 1.4 interceptions per game, which is actually more than any other United midfielder. The list of Fred’s unsung stats includes:
- Won possession of the ball 221 times this season, more than any other midfielder in the top six.
- Has made 140 passes into the final third for United this season, more than any other player.
- Has also created more chances than any of his teammates with 68. His 60 chances created from open play is also the highest figure at United.
- Covered the most ground of any United player in the club’s first five Premier League games of 2020.
Figures like these well and truly explain why Fred has missed just 11 minutes of football in United’s last 22 league games.
So far in the Premier League this season, Fred has maintained a passing accuracy of 87 percent, made seven blocks, played 418 forward passes, and has a successful tackling percentage of 54. In stark contrast, Liverpool’s Fabinho has a passing accuracy of 85 percent, has made a solitary block, played 267 forward passes, and has topped the strife with a successful tackling percentage of 56.
Chelsea’s N’Golo Kante, who has played 18 league games compared to Fred’s 24, has made four blocks and has a successful tackling percentage of 42. While it's true that figures like these never exhibit true potential, they sure act as a morale booster on a personal note.
An upward spiral in form got an additional boost in January when Manchester United signed Bruno Fernandes. The Portuguese international made an instant impact, but keep in mind who was doing the dirty work from the deep.
After a year of despondency, it is safe to say Fred has found a stable footing in Manchester. And for that to happen, a regular run in the starting XI has played its part, but more than that, Solskjaer’s faith has been a massive push.
Before the coronavirus brought the games to a halt, Fred made sure he heads into the break with a perfect moment. United visited Austria to take on LASK in March, and the Brazilian assisted two goals as United came out 5-0 victorious.
Note: Stats taken from whoscored
Feature image courtesy: AFP / Adrian Dennis