Fred has worked his way into the manager's plans going forward. (Photo by James Williamson - AMA/Getty Images)

How Fred's second season improvement has made him a highly valuable member of Manchester United squad

Fred has become much more comfortable in the Man Utd midfield and the Brazilian was impressive in the 2019/20 season.


Back in 2018, with Manchester United’s midfield due an injection of creativity, the club’s fanbase quickly grew excited over Fred’s impending arrival.

Here was a player, many thought, to reinvigorate United’s midfield, a promising talent who had attracted strong interest from clubs across Europe before the Red Devils snapped him up for just over £50million.

There were several encouraging signs, most notably Manchester City being credited with an interest and Fred’s inclusion in Brazil’s 23-man squad for the 2018 World Cup.

However, after a series of unconvincing performances early in his United career having failed to make an appearance for his country in Russia, Fred was branded a flop, a bullet that City and Pep Guardiola had gladly dodged.

It is true, after all, that Fred struggled during his first year at Old Trafford. As a big-money box-to-box midfielder, he was expected to have a major influence at both ends of the pitch for Jose Mourinho’s side.

But his new manager found it difficult to trust him, and even after Mourinho’s dismissal, his opportunities remained limited under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

The 2019/20 season was largely a different story. While Fred still spent time on the bench, he started 23 league games under Solskjaer, up from the 13 he managed in 2018/19.

Crucially, though, the South American has appeared much more comfortable as part of United’s double pivot in midfield. With the pressure to create and score having eased significantly, Fred has steadily become one of United’s most dependable operators in the middle of the park.

It was encouraging, then, to read the midfielder clearly stating his desire to remain at the club amid speculation linking him with Galatasaray.

Speaking to FourFourTwo, he said: “I want to stay here – that’s my desire.

“I don’t want to leave. As I’ve always said, I want to be an important player and win trophies for this club.”

After a shaky debut season at United, Fred has thankfully found his feet under Solskjaer.

In terms of stats in all competitions per 90, he has increased his interceptions from 5.13 to 5.31, and his ball recoveries from 7.72 to 8.89, according to Wyscout’s data.

His passing has also improved, going from 86.5 per cent to 88 per cent while he is marginally more accurate with his passes into the final third, going from 75.3 per cent to 78.5 per cent.

These are marginal gains, admittedly, but Fred has bolstered his reputation drastically with a series of battling performances against some of United’s most difficult opponents.

Prior to lockdown, he played a key role in United’s 2-0 win over top-four rivals Chelsea at Stamford Bridge, making eight interceptions and winning eight of his 11 defensive duels as Solskjaer’s side took three important points back to Old Trafford.

Against derby rivals City in United’s final game before the pandemic-enforced break, he produced a similarly spirited display in the engine room, again winning eight of his 11 defensive duels while making seven interceptions.

As he did against City at the Etihad in December, Fred turned away crosses, cut out passes on the edge of the box and generally hassled the City players as United captured a third derby win of the season and boosted hopes of a return to the Champions League.

With his tenacity and natural tendency to chase down opponents in possession, Fred needs a disciplined sitting midfielder next to him. In the aforementioned wins over Chelsea and City, for example, the Brazilian had Nemanja Matic next to him.

However, following Paul Pogba’s return to fitness in June, Fred was reduced to a bit-part role during United’s quest to claim a top-four finish.

With Matic and Pogba paired together in the double-pivot, Fred’s solitary league start in the latter stages of the season came in the first game back after lockdown, a 1-1 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur.

While he failed to convince during his first year in England, Fred was a victim of circumstance in 2019/20, with Matic’s unlikely resurgence, Pogba’s return and the arrival of Bruno Fernandes combining to push him out of the starting line-up.

However, he still performed admirably when he was called upon in the Europa League, a competition in which he has demonstrated more attacking nous this term with two goals and four assists during United’s run to the last four.

While Matic and Pogba seem to have nailed down the two spots protecting Solskjaer’s back four, the Serbian is now 32.

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Provided Fred can improve his positional discipline while retaining his other defensive qualities, there may be a place for him alongside Pogba in the long run, although while he is usually steady on the ball, many would like to see him add verticality and incision to his passing.

Given his comments regarding his future, it is clear that he is determined to build on a quietly promising sophomore year at Old Trafford.

While Fernandes, Pogba and new arrival Donny van de Beek will be expected to produce the fireworks in midfield, Fred’s abilities as an effective destroyer when United are penned back against Premier League heavyweights makes him a highly valuable member of Solskjaer’s squad.