Fred - Analysing Manchester United's potential midfield signings
Manchester United’s last three matches have embodied their entire season in a snapshot. Jose Mourinho’s second season at the helm has seen a marked improvement in league standing, goals scored, and defensive statistics but the team has been inconsistent.
There have been a few matches in which his squad is in markedly different form on either side of the half-time whistle. The latest was the Manchester Derby at the Etihad. First Half United was listless, with no real link between the midfield and the attack. Second Half United was an invigorated side, purposeful, dangerous, and prepared to wreak havoc on the league's best team.
Unsurprisingly [really, it wasn't a shock] United fell at home to West Brom in the following match. They enjoyed possession but offered no creativity. Consequently, they surrendered to Coach Darren Moore’s low block.
Mourinho rang a host of changes in the next match against Bournemouth. Despite a 2-0 win, United often seemed clueless as to how they might penetrate Eddie Howe’s compact defence. A midfield puppetmaster might solve that issue.
The Red Devils will likely add at least one midfielder in the summer. Michael Carrick is retiring. Marouane Fellaini is leaving for greener pastures. In the series' previous instalments, we analysed Sergej Milinkovic-Savic and Jorginho. This time, let's kick the tires on Shakhtar Donetsk’s Fred.
Skills and capabilities
Frederico Rodrigues Santos, otherwise known as Fred, has been Shakhtar Donetsk's star performer for the last two seasons. The Brazilian is nominally a defensive midfielder but with a slight modification.
The 24-year-old is only 5'6" yet stands tall among more physical opponents. His low centre of gravity allows him to stand his ground when battling stronger, taller opponents. His technical skills let him navigate close spaces and play the ball up the field.
In addition, he has tremendous stamina. He can protect the defensive wall, break on the counter, and recover, rinse, lather, repeat, as needed. Fred is not static. He moves freely in the field, often linking up with forward players to create opportunities for the team. When needed, he is there to defend, as well.
In 24 games this season, Fred has scored two goals and made four assists. More than his attacking contribution for the Ukrainian champions, his ability to conduct the game and direct tempo makes him a key player in the Miners' squad.
Defensively, he is adept at making tackles and interceptions. In eight Champions League matches, he made over five tackles per game, winning better than three. After winning the ball in his own half, often as deep as his own penalty box, he would break on the counter, using his speed to deliver his cargo to players further afield.
His versatility plays an influential role in Shakhtar's overall game beyond that of the typical defensive midfielder.
How would he fit at United?
Fred is used to playing as a screening midfielder in a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-2-2-2. Mourinho has traditionally used either a 4-2-3-1 or a 4-3-3 at United, only using a 3-5-2 or 3-4-3 in select cases. In those conditions, the Brazilian will be right at home.
At present, Nemanja Matic is the defensive screen, but the Serb is ageing. He lacks the speed the younger man brings. United’s midfield has often been overrun in the past due to its sluggish temperament. Fred will inject more vitality into the position.
His dynamism will help Paul Pogba and other attacking midfielders venture further forward. When playing in Mourinho's current 4-2-3-1, Pogba must stick near the halfway line. Otherwise, Matic is exposed to the counterattack.
Offensively, United depends on Pogba to play the link between midfield and attack. When he isn’t in form, United have suffered. Fred provides United with a second player who can dribble and pick out a wide array of passes.
There’s a good reason why Manchester City chased him in the January transfer window. Bringing Fred to the red side of town will certainly rejuvenate United’s often stagnant playing style.