Football Features

Fred: The glue holding Manchester United’s midfield together

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 15:00, 30 October 2020

After years of inconsistent and middling performances, Fred is finally coming good for Manchester United.

The Brazilian arrived in summer 2018 for a massive £47m fee. It seemed good at the time, with United gazumping rivals Man City to bring Fred to Old Trafford. However, it soon started to feel like the only reason United signed him was because City were about to. Fred became a spare part who, no matter how well he played couldn’t get into the side.

Since the Norwegian took over, however, Fred has been steadily improving, showing his ability more and more.


  • Age: 27
  • League stats at Manchester United
    • Tackles: 2.52 per 90 minutes (fourth-highest at club)
    • Passes completed: 59.85 (second-highest)
    • Possession won: 9.63 (highest)
  • Football Index value: £0.40 (Sell)  £0.61 (Buy)

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It all started against Paris Saint-Germain two seasons ago where, due to injury, Fred had to start and despite all odds he was excellent in a memorable victory. Since that day he has been steadily improving, and put together a very impressive run alongside Scott McTominay last season.

Now after United started 2020/21 getting absolutely ripped apart defensively, once again Solskjaer has turned to Fred to stabilise midfield and once again he and McTominay have done just that. With the Brazilian and Scot as defensive anchors, United have turned their defensive form around after the humiliating 6-1 loss to Spurs (where Fred and McTominay came on at half-time to stabilise things).

The Red Devils have conceded just two goals in four games, with both of those strikes being freak own goals that the opposition did little to earn. Newcastle, Chelsea, RB Leipzig and PSG have all faced United and failed to get on the scoresheet themselves with Fred on the field.

And why is that? Fred is hardly N’Golo Kanté, but he occupies a similar role in the United side. He’s the glue man in the Man Utd midfield. He does a bit of everything, plugging gaps and holding things together where needed.

Fred’s Football Index value over the last three months.

Since joining United in 2018, only Aaron Wan-Bissaka has made more tackles per 90 minutes (with a minimum of 1,458 minutes played) than Fred’s 2.52. He is a relentless tackler whose energy adds so much dynamism to the United midfield; he is always alert to danger and ready to get stuck in and get the ball back for his side.

Fred has won possession 9.63 times per 90 which is far and away the most among any United regular in that time period. And when you have a team full of adventurous midfielders and forwards who don’t necessarily want to do too much defending, someone like Fred tearing around the pitch getting stuck into every single challenge there is makes a big difference in reducing the pressure the United defence faces.

He’s alright when he has the ball, too. A smooth dribbler completing 1.44 take-ons per 90 (at a 74% success rate) he can drift by opponents and escape into space behind the midfield. Of course what stops him being elite is that his passing could charitably be described as “erratic” and he really needs time to pick his passes (a pass completion of 87% is substandard for a holding midfielder like him).

But even some wild passes cannot disguise the fact that Fred is a crucial cog in the United midfield. The last four games played shows exactly that. The next step in his and United’s evolution will be to see if he can handle being the lone defensive midfielder on a more regular basis, but until then he will continue to man half the double pivot and be the club’s defensive counterbalance.

Fred is simply incredible. An energetic dynamo who closes down every opponent and covers the spaces left by United’s more illustrious name. Not the most fashionable name, not a headline grabber, not the brightest star at Old Trafford, but unquestionably the glue holding United’s midfield together.