Fred's impact at Manchester United is finally being felt
- It's taken some time, but Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos has finally arrived at Manchester United.
It has been no secret that Manchester United have endured a state of constant struggle for a few years now, and regardless of whether or not they qualify for next season's UEFA Champions League, another unsuccessful season is nearing an end.
Their 2018/19 campaign was unsuccessful for a number of reasons. The season in which they had two different permanent managers saw them finish sixth with 55 points and qualify for the Europa League. It was a season which led to spectacular unravellings of both Jose Mourinho's and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's renditions of the squad eventually impacting their results.
While there were barely any positives to take from such a poor campaign, one of the few has to be the arrival of Fred. Not his arrival at Old Trafford per se, after a big-money move from Shakhtar Donetsk, but on the pitch with his performances.
The away tie to Paris Saint-Germain in last year's Champions League Round of 16 was, perhaps, the game that brought to life the midfielder that currently runs United's proceedings from the middle of the park. Although the Red Devils eventually got knocked out by Lionel Messi and Barcelona in the next round, the Brazilian's form appeared to be sparked to life.
That by no means meant that he was, all of a sudden, a better player. What that game effectively did was instil a sense of confidence in the 27-year old. It was a memorable start which enabled him to kick on and the Belo Horizonte-native sent the United faithful a timely reminder of his presence after a wayward season.
Despite a relatively slow start in the 2019/20 campaign that is exactly how events transpired. It took Fred until the 6th of October last year to earn his first Premier League start this season which ended in a 1-0 loss away to Newcastle United. The timing of this start coincides with Paul Pogba's ankle injury, however, Fred made full use of the opportunity at hand by cementing his place in the strongest XI of the team, evidently growing in confidence and touch with each passing game.
After a string of starts in the league, Fred began to dominate midfields and dictate the game from the middle third of the pitch. He has gone on to become the go-to player in midfield, constantly demanding the ball and recycling possession while tirelessly chasing loose balls and making recoveries before beginning a counter-attack.
Yet, it appeared to be the case of him still needing time to fully grow into what the role and the club demands of him. A difficult run of fixtures early in December saw them play Tottenham Hotspur and Everton at home, either side of a trip to the Etihad. Now appearing to have settled in, it was Fred's time to shine as one of United's pillars in midfield.
The Brazilian made life hell for his former manager Jose Mourinho upon his homecoming at Old Trafford and delivered a show of superb quality to an extent which saw Harry Kane dropping deeper than usual to collect the ball. The diminutive Brazilian was colossal in the middle with his 86 touches and making two tackles, three interceptions, two clearances, 61 passes (21 of them being completed forward passes) and a stunning 11 ball recoveries, constantly thwarting any Spurs attacks in his area of the pitch.
He followed this up with another pivotal display at the Etihad helping Solskjaer's men to a 2-1 win on the evening, winning the most tackles and making the most interceptions on the pitch.
From this point on, regardless of whether United registered a victory or not, the 27-year-old has played with a spring in his step and has delivered performances of the highest order, especially during the Carabao Cup tie against City where he was deemed to be the best player on the pitch.
His passing, especially from central areas, improved massively from December and since the 22nd, his passes per game saw a rise of more than 23 passes per 90 minutes.
His resurgence as one of the key men of the squad was also galvanised by the arrival of Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon and the Brazilain has developed a smart understanding with the Portuguese. While the latter has brought with him an influx of creativity and energy, the latter has quietly continued to run games from the middle and dictate proceedings effortlessly.
The ability was always there in Fred's locker and so was the understanding of the game. He was, after all, a Manchester City and more importantly Pep Guardiola target before signing for United, and the Catalan coach is widely regarded to have a keen eye for midfielders of a specific profile. It is, however, the confidence and state of mind that make all the difference in the world.
If his per-90 numbers from the 2018/19 and the 2019/20 seasons are compared, the improvement from last season is telling even on paper. His passes have gone up from 66.4 to 69.6, touches from 85.3 to 91.4, chances created from open play from 0.9 to 1.3, shots from 1.5 to 1.7, and dribbles completed from 0.9 to 1.7.
The improvement is not just in terms of numbers but mainly in the mindset, creativity, innovation and expressiveness on the pitch. He took his time, but Fred is certainly beginning to show what he's truly capable of and has shown the same to devastating effects on opposition midfields. His ability to dictate the tempo and flow of the game also gives United something they haven't had in a long while. The Belo Horizonte man is, arguably, the leading contender for United's Player of the Season award.
With Bruno Fernandes firing on all cylinders from the word go, Paul Pogba reportedly back in training and the likely summer additions that could follow, the Red Devils' midfield looks to be in good hands and Brazilian metronome has been the driving force in that area this season.
When a skilful Brazilian player who is cultured on the ball begins to feel blessed with confidence, he is bound to do well. It's taken some time, but Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos has finally arrived at Manchester United.Published 08 Mar 2020, 21:07 IST