Fred has been one of the rare positives for Manchester United this season – something that Sunday’s opponents know all too well. Much maligned under the previous two managers’ reigns, the Brazilian has had somewhat of a revival under Ralf Rangnick.
Rangnick has given Fred, who signed for £52m in 2018 from Shakhtar Donetsk, greater license to attack from center midfield. This shift has allowed him to grab his best return for United, with four goals and six assists.
Compare that to last season, which saw just one goal and two assists despite playing 12 more games than in the current campaign. Fred’s change was evident in the German’s first game in charge.
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He scored the winner in a 1-0 win against Crystal Palace, the opponents they face on the final day of the season this Sunday. Hovering unmarked at the edge of the box, United’s number 17 pulled out a top-corner curler to give United a deserved victory.
Fred clearly hasn’t forgotten that game. After reaching the milestone of 100 Premier League performances last month, he picked out that victory as a standout of his English career so far.
He told United Review: “I think a special game was this season against Crystal Palace, when we won 1-0. ‘It was a great atmosphere, we won and I scored the winner.”
It is a somewhat damning indication of Fred and United’s performance over the last four years that a home win against a mid-table side is considered a highlight. Nevertheless, it demonstrates how much the Brazilian has enjoyed his more advanced role than him.
Despite being a regular starter last season as United came second and reached the Europa League final, it this season that Fred believes is his best ever at the club. Particularly under Ole Gunnar Solskjær, he was deployed as a defensive midfielder alongside Scott McTominay, limiting his opportunities to break between the lines.
Fred, like McTominay and Paul Pogba, has often been asked to play out of a position to make up for the absence of a specialist defensive midfielder. Nemanja Matic, the only natural player in that role, is to depart from United this summer, with Pogba and Juan Mata following.
This means Fred will remain a crucial part of Erik ten Hag’s plans this summer. However, his improvement from him this season should send a message to the Dutchman that United need to utilize midfielders in their best positions.
For too long United have asked their midfielders to excel in unnatural roles, rather than playing to their strengths. It can be argued that Fred, McTominay and Paul Pogba have suffered from this disjointed strategy, a strategy that can only be rectified by signing a dedicated no. 6. This summer United are focusing on signing a new defensive midfielder – and this could unlock the best of Fred.
It was hoped that the energetic display against Crystal Palace would be a sign of things to come for the rest of the season. Instead, most of the team has looked unwilling or unable to carry out the gegenpressing that Rangnick was renowned for.
Fred has at least shown some enthusiasm for a style of play that Ten Hag is known to favour. Both will hope for more significant stand out moments next season.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.