In Focus: Fred is finally a midfield marvel for United

Manchester United midfielder Fred celebrates his first goal of the season against Tottenham on Sunday

Manchester United midfielder Fred celebrates his first goal of the season against Tottenham on Sunday

It was a rare moment — and the look of relief on Fred’s face was telling. 

He had scored his first goal of the season, and only his fourth in a Manchester United shirt, to level things up against Tottenham on Sunday.

Although a capable striker of the ball, goals are not something the Brazil international is expected to provide.

But in recent months, Fred’s general play has finally cemented his place as an Old Trafford regular.

Ahead of the second leg of United’s Europa League quarter-final with Granada tonight, we dig deeper into the underappreciated midfielder’s importance to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.

Burgeoning reputation

Fred, 28, now finds himself established as a key part of a United team that has made impressive strides of late under Solskjaer.

Alongside Scott McTominay, he provides much-needed balance in midfield, mopping up loose balls and sitting behind the more fluid, attack-minded quartet ahead of him.

Fred’s impressive discipline allows Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood to play with more freedom and to focus almost solely on their responsibilities in the final third.

It is a simple formula that has worked to great effect for United this season — and Fred’s value has not gone unnoticed.

More goals?

Speaking after the 3-1 win over Tottenham, Fred said: “I know my job is not scoring goals but when I score goals I am feeling very happy. 

“I am going to keep trying to get more this season.”

Fred has been a regular in United's midfield under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
Fred has been a regular in United's midfield under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Such dedication to improvement will undoubtedly please United fans, many of whom are already enamoured with a player who could have signed for rivals Manchester City.

He has not always been so popular. The switch to the Premier League from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018 initially proved challenging.

Fred was in and out of the side under Jose Mourinho and endured a far longer adjustment period than hoped.

Hunger and humility

Discussing Fred’s improvement in February, Solskjaer said: “There’s less time in the Premier League than what he’s used to — he’s quickened up his game, he’s not getting caught on the ball.

“I’m not going to take any credit for that. The coaches, Michael Carrick and Kieran [McKenna], have been brilliant with him.

“But it’s Fred himself who has had the hunger and the humility and wanted to learn and to stick at it and keep working.”

Mr Reliable

The numbers give some insight into Fred’s reliability this season. 

With a passing accuracy of 87.05% and an average of 59.36 passes completed per 90 minutes, he is among the Premier League’s most proficient users of the ball.

Doing the dirty work has earned Fred plenty of plaudits
Doing the dirty work has earned Fred plenty of plaudits

But it is his work out of possession that is most impressive. Only 12 players in the division have won the ball in the middle third more than Fred (4.42 times per 90 minutes). 

His combative nature is also essential — he makes an average of 2.94 tackles, bettered by just 10 others.

This is work that can go unnoticed, particularly in a team boasting flair players such as Fernandes and Pogba.

Part of the furniture

Increasingly, though, Fred is appreciated at Old Trafford. 

It may take a rare goal to bring his contributions to the forefront but he is certainly no longer the scapegoat he was during his early days with the club.

Almost three years into his United career, it feels like Fred is part of the furniture.

And there can be no higher praise than that for a good holding midfielder.

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Manchester UnitedEuropa LeagueGranada