Despite the fact that Manchester United’s preseason schedule is barely a week old, manager Erik ten Hag has already found plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
He’s seen his team win its first two games, scoring eight goals, play with a positive spirit, show signs of listening to what he wants from them, and surrender just one goal. So far, the positives certainly outnumber the negatives.
While it is also true that United defeated a much-changed, out-of-sorts Liverpool squad and a Melbourne Victory side that was predicted to beat them, you can bet that criticism would have been prevalent had things not gone so well. You must give credit where it is due.
While United has shown a lot of promise collectively, playing with the possession-based style that Ten Hag desires from his players, there have also been a lot of standout individual performances. Eric Bailly, Charlie Savage, Zidane Iqbal, Jadon Sancho, and Anthony Martial have perhaps been the biggest plus points thus far, but other players have also merited attention for their pre-season beginnings, even if their contributions have gone somewhat unnoticed.
Fred is one of those who might fall into such a category. The Brazilian is in his fifth season with United, having played under five different managers, including Michael Carrick’s three-game stint as caretaker manager between the end of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure and the start of Ralf Rangnick’s.
All four of United’s previous managers have placed a high value on Fred, as seen by his 156 competitive appearances for the club since joining from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018. You could argue that if United had signed the critically needed defensive midfielder a year ago, he might not have been as much of a regular as he was last season. That, however, is not his fault.
He has always put his emotions on his sleeve and given his all for the cause, despite being unfairly labeled as United’s scapegoat-in-chief. But Fred has undeniably demonstrated his worth this calendar year; he was one of United’s top players during a dreadful period under Rangnick and has started the first two friendlies of the Ten Hag era, scoring a fantastic goal against Liverpool.
While the goal against Liverpool has undoubtedly been the highlight of his pre-season preparations thus far, the 29-year-old has been effective in each of United’s first two outings, appearing in the first halves against both Liverpool and Melbourne Victory. He has kept things nice and tidy in midfield, but not in the same manner as Sancho and Iqbal have.
Again, you might argue that Fred is only staying in United’s midfield because there aren’t many other choices, but he’s done enough to earn the trust of five different managers. That must tell something about the qualities and mindset he brings to the table, doesn’t it?
Whether or not United signs Frenkie de Jong, Fred will undoubtedly start the season opener against Brighton & Hove Albion in defensive midfield. Although he is not in the same mold as Fabinho or Rodri, he possesses the defensive know-how to fulfill the role while still providing forward runs with his energy and pace.
He is capable of accomplishing a little bit of everything, as evidenced by his 10 direct goal contributions in all competitions last season (four goals, six assists). If paired with De Jong, Fred would be a perfect partner, sitting back and keeping an eye out for possible counter-attacks as De Jong sprints forward between the lines if United were to land their top midfield target. Having a world-class ballplayer alongside him could potentially help him advance his game.
At the age of 29, Fred is entering the stage of his career where he should be consistently performing at his peak. While weaknesses in his game persist, he has shown evidence that he could be essential in the manner Ten Hag wants United to play, marshaling the midfield well against Liverpool with a rigorous focus on man-marking.
He will always be a player who divides fans’ opinions. However, with few choices in midfield and it being evident that United will not be buying in a true defensive midfielder this summer, Fred might play an important role in Ten Hag’s plans.