Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos, or Fred, as we know him, has had an indifferent start to his Manchester United career. The Brazilian midfielder, signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for £52 million, was brought in to provide the missing link in United’s midfield, but on the evidence of United’s first two games, he has struggled to impose himself.
Manchester United’s first two games were against Leicester and Brighton; opponents they would have expected to beat easily. However, a 2-1 win over Leicester and then a 3-1 defeat away at Brighton have already darkened the mood at Old Trafford, and Fred’s numbers from these two games confirm his struggle to adapt to the Premier League as well.
The Brazilian has been dispossessed 5 times and has committed 6 fouls, while only making 1 tackle himself. He’s also had 5 unsuccessful touches, meaning he has lost possession as many times and had only 4 interceptions across the two games. These statistics show that Fred is yet to settle into his role in United’s midfield, that of a box-to-box player. His defensive numbers should be much better, especially in the absence of Nemanja Matic; Andreas Pereira has been playing as the deepest midfielder but is more in the mould of a Jorginho, who needs players around him to put a shift in and help out defensively.
However, his passing numbers do stand up to scrutiny; Fred had almost identical pass completion rates of 92.5% and 92.4% against Leicester and Brighton respectively, while he made 53 and 79 passes respectively in those two games, which demonstrate that he got himself involved in the game and did not often lose the ball due to a stray pass. This may have been influenced by the fact that he only made a forward pass 36% of the time across both games; however, it can be argued that he was simply doing his job and retaining possession, as he is not the primary creative player in the side.
A complete lack of assists or key passes in both games confirms this. Fred’s role is primarily to keep United’s midfield together and help out both defensively and offensively without disrupting the balance of the side. When viewed through this aspect, he has done fairly well, providing close support to Pogba and Pereira. He does need to improve his defensive contribution, as well as try and get forward more. His statistics from last season’s Champions League campaign illustrate that he does have the ability to do so –
Fred made 23 successful take-ons with an 89% success rate from eight appearances in the Champions League last season, which illustrates his dribbling ability. Moreover, Fred made 2.88 successful take-ons per 90 minutes, ahead of the likes of Pogba (2.27), Ilkay Gundogan (1.97), Nemanja Matic (1.27) and Kevin De Bruyne (2.44). Further, Fred was extremely positive on the ball, with almost 65% of his passes made forward, and he also created 1.13 chances per 90 minutes, with only Kevin de Bruyne doing better than him from the list of midfielders used above.
The fact that he has only won 1 tackle in 2 games so far is also an anomaly, as he won 2.25 tackles per 90 minutes in last season’s Champions League. Fred is perhaps suffering from not having Nemanja Matic in the team and is thus forced to take on a greater defensive burden than usual. Indeed, the numbers bear this out – Fred made 1 interception per 90 minutes in the Champions League, while he has already made 4 across two games. Matic and Fred would complement each other perfectly in a defensive sense – Matic averaged 1.75 successful tackles per 90 minutes but made 2.07 interceptions in the same period, which shows that Fred will drop back and harass the man in possession, looking to regain the ball and launch a quick counter-attack, while Matic will shield the defence, using his superb positioning skills to shut opposition passing lanes and win the ball back through interceptions, once Matic returns from injury.
Fred has undoubtedly had a difficult start to his United career, but while he needs to step up and be a little more assertive as well, circumstances have not helped. Nemanja Matic’s absence has put a lot of pressure on Fred to shield the defence, and that is not his natural role, due to which he has suffered. More than anything he can do himself, it is the Serbian’s return that will release the Brazilian’s shackles and allow him to fully exhibit the talent that persuaded United to bring him to Old Trafford this season.