United have announced they have agreed the transfer of Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos, commonly referred to as Fred from Ukrainian side Shakhtar Donetsk. A midfield player, Fred has featured for Shakhtar since his transfer from Brazilian side SC Internacional in 2014. He arrived there as a replacement for fellow Brazilian Fernandinho who had recently left for Manchester City. There have been strong rumours that Fred would follow Fernandinho to City after an impressive performance against them in this year’s Champions League but the player moves to United after a potential January move stalled allegedly because the Ukrainian club were reluctant to sell whilst still in the Champions League themselves.
Fred is a full international and part of the Brazilian squad for the forthcoming World Cup in Russia, although he is not a regular starter having recently returned from a suspension as a consequence of a failed drugs test. At the time of writing, he has 8 caps.
So where will Fred fit in at Old Trafford? At Shakhtar he has operated as one of the pivots in their 4-2-3-1 system chiefly as the more mobile shuttler alongside the less adventurous ball winner Taras Steponenko; that is Fred is the player of the two pivots who will tend to push on when his side has the ball. Jose Mourinho set his team up in a 4-2-3-1 or alternatively a 4-3-3 shape last year and the signing of this player suggests that he may continue. Many fans have been crying out for change to the managers approach and whilst this signing may not signal that it may instead point to a more dynamic and assertive version of it.
Fred is a naturally left footed player, although he is almost as comfortable on his right foot. He is a tactically disciplined player, with the sought of sound defensive and spatial awareness you would expect from a defensive midfield player. He has a good range of passing and is particularly adept at picking a longer pass for runners ahead of him. In all this, he sounds a little bit like Michael Carrick and the managers thinking may well be that he sees him as a direct replacement for the player he has now taken onto his coaching staff. Fred is perhaps physically stronger and quicker than Carrick in his prime and perhaps this increased dynamic athleticism is the key to what Mourinho sees in the player. At Shakhtar an important part of his game has been his ability to cover for full backs with the Ukrainians relying on those players to push forward providing attacking width. If Jose Mourinho is looking for more from his fullbacks next year as many suggest, this facet of his game may be significant.
One of United’s main weaknesses last season was their inability to win the ball back early along with a reluctance to move the ball forward quickly when they did win it. Fred could help with that in a number of ways. Firstly at Shakhtar he was a key part of their ability to press, forcing opponents to play into wide areas then boxing them in to win the ball high up the pitch. Secondly increased athleticism in midfield could mean that United might not need to wait for opponents to give the ball back to them, wait for a mistake, allowing United to be less passive and more assertive in controlling the game. But perhaps most importantly by passing forward early. An ability to release a longer earlier forward pass gets ball up pitch earlier; all too often United have been guilty of passing sideways or back so allowing opponents time to get into their defensive shape.
Fred’s forward running could in fact transform the team shape on winning the ball from a 4-2-3-1 in defensive phase to a 4-3-3 with Fred getting up alongside Pogba; the player has a good accurate long shot and is adept at making key forward runs towards the box arriving at key moments.
His strengths and discipline could free Pogba, eliminating the need to play Pogba as one of the pivots and allowing him to play higher up the pitch where he has better opportunities to hurt the opposition. Fred’s ability to link play forward early could also be a critical asset.
In view of all this we say Fred, welcome to Old Trafford.