Manchester United absentee confirmed Rangnick suspicions but Brighton return can fix clear flaw – Omar Garrick

Manchester United fans will be approaching tonight’s rearranged Premier League game with Brighton with a sense of trepidation after a dour 1-1 draw with Southampton on Saturday but the return of Fred promises to offer a much-needed midfield boost.

Ralf Rangnick will be encouraged by the return of the 28-year-old after he missed the last two games due to testing positive for COVID-19 and he could come straight into the starting XI at the base of the midfield against the Seagulls.

There’s no doubt as to why Fred splits opinion among the United fanbase. He ranges from looking like the midfielder United have long yearned for one minute and then resembles the very opposite the next. His inconsistency from him is maddening for supporters.

There remains a perception that Fred isn’t quite at the required level to nail down a permanent starting role at Old Trafford because he’s frequently susceptible to errors. Whether that’s his first touch or his weaker right foot, there are obvious flaws to his game.

But at the same time, when he is on the receiving end of praise, it’s normally because he’s deserving of it and United’s 3-1 win at Brentford epitomized this. He endured a particularly difficult first half and was overrun by the energy of the Bees’ midfield but in the second half, he gave an excellent all-round midfield display and even provided an assist for Anthony Elanga to give United the lead.

The common accusation leveled at him is that he does not specialize in any one particular area. He does not fit the defensive destroyer mould, nor does he rank among the categories of a deep-lying playmaker or a goalscoring midfielder. But the Southampton game marked out why he has a role to play under Rangnick.

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The area where United lost control against Ralf Hassenhuttl’s team was in midfield.

Rangnick lined up with Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes and Scott McTominay in the middle against the Saints and while there were some examples of the trio working in an attacking sense, the protection (or lack of) it offered the back four was palpable.

While there is a need to somehow try and get Pogba and Fernandes playing in the same team, it only works when you have a specialist defensive midfielder next to one of them and United currently don’t have that. The end of the 2019/20 season emphasized this, when they had a younger and more robust Nemanja Matic to sweep up in the middle.

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Rangnick’s team were cut open in the second half against Southampton and couldn’t cope with their energy in midfield in a system which will be familiar to Rangnick as Hasenhuttl lined his team up in a 4-2-2-2 shape. Pogba was drifting too far forward and Fernandes was too often in no man’s land, placing himself in the wrong positions at the wrong time to deal with turnovers.

It was obvious that McTominay was struggling to do the defensive work all by himself and, as a result, Oriel Romeu and James Ward-Prowse stole the show at Old Trafford on Saturday.

Tonight’s game takes on added importance in the context of the weekend result and if United are to secure the top-four finish they crave, they will need to find a way of not allowing leads to slip from their grasp. Fred has a key role to play in making the midfield unit more stable against Graham Potter’s side, who will pose a stern test.

It’s patently clear United need an upgrade in this particular area of ​​the team but from now until the end of the season, Fred has a key role to play. Rangnick needs a fix to some very clear midfield issues and Fred has the chance to reiterate his importance to him to the cause.

Would you start Fred tonight? Follow our United On My Mind writer omar garrick on Twitter to get involved in the discussion and give us your thoughts on the matter in the comments section below.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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