Manchester United took a huge step toward the Premier League top four with a 2-0 win away at Burnley on Saturday evening.
The Red Devils had to work hard for the three points against a typically resolute Clarets defence but a slick finish from Anthony Martial in 44th minute after Andreas Pereira had dispossessed Burnley left-back Charlie Taylor was enough to do the damage, while Marcus Rashford sealed the deal with a goal on the break in the final minute of second-half injury time.
It was an impressive and wholely welcome win on the road for United, leaving them in fifth place, just one point behind Chelsea in the final Champions League spot.
Martial and Rashford were a handful throughout for Sean Dyche’s side all evening, while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be thrilled with the defensive solidity shown by the likes of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, reducing Burnley to sporadic fits of pressure.
But what the United boss may be most pleased with was the individual performance of Brazilian midfielder, Fred.
The former Shakhtar Donetsk man has had his fair share of critics throughout his time at Old Trafford and, for the most part, rightly so — Fred has often been anonymous and horrendously sloppy in the middle of the park, offering none of the technicality or suave he was originally signed for.
But in recent weeks, the 26-year-old has finally started showing signs that he’s getting to grips with things in the Premier League, with former England defender Chris Powell hailing his performance during United’s Manchester derby win at the Etihad earlier this month.
“I think with Fred, I saw him up close and personal against Manchester City — it was the best game I think I’ve seen him play,” Powell said.
Fred has carried that form through the festive period and provided United with a real cornerstone in midfield, with the likes of Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic being rotated, and Paul Pogba battling with fitness and uncertainty over his future. And at Turf Moor on Saturday, Martial and Rashford’s match-winning moments aside, he was arguably United’s most important player.
No Man Utd player managed a better pass completion rate than Fred’s 90 per cent during the win in Lancashire — an encouraging stat given his tendency for unforced errors in possession to this point — while the Brazilian also completed three dribbles, the second-highest of any player on the pitch and only bettered by Rashford (five). Fred was neat, tidy and efficient, but also a real driving force in moving Solskjaer’s side up the pitch quickly once possession had been recovered.
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Fred also played a key role in doing just that, recovering possession, making a team-high four tackles, helping suppress any sort of pressure Burnley attempted to mount on David de Gea’s goal. He was tireless throughout the second half, popping up in his own box with an interception and clearance in the final minutes as Burnley attempted to turn the screw, before taking the ball in injury time and once again driving United to the edge of the opposition penalty area.
This energy and awareness typified a fine individual performance in what has been a much-improved personal spell for Fred. With Martial and Rashford scoring with ease right now, this will likely go under the radar, but Solskjaer will no doubt be praising his diminutive Brazilian at a time when his best midfield appears anything but certain.