Last summer, Jose Mourinho prioritised the signing of a midfielder. In Nemanja Matic he got it absolutely right, the Serbian slotting seamlessly into the Portuguese coach’s plans for Manchester United.
A year on and Mourinho has moved swiftly and shrewdly once more to sign Fred from Shakhtar Donetsk.
The highly-rated Brazilian’s capture brings with it great promise. A genuine box-to-box midfielder who is accomplished in possession, Fred offers United a dynamism and energy that has perhaps been missing from the centre in recent years.
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His arrival, while undoubtedly exciting, does, however, place a question mark over Ander Herrera’s level of involvement next season.
The expectation is Fred will operate in a midfield trio alongside Matic and Paul Pogba, thus relegating Herrera to the bench.
It may not sit well with some United fans. The tenacity and passion with which Herrera has conducted his duties in recent seasons, particularly in the unenviable task of man-marking Chelsea’s Eden Hazard, has made him a cult hero at Old Trafford.
However, if Mourinho is to build a side worthy of challenging Manchester City’s supremacy, adding players who will take them to the next level is a must. Snapping up Fred – reportedly a Manchester City transfer target – is Mourinho doing just that and our friends at Football Whispers have taken a look at why he is an upgrade on Herrera.
But how will he differ to Herrera?
Fred’s qualities are broader in scope than Herrera’s. Whereas the Basque-born midfielder has relished gritty battles in midfield, particularly in cagey affairs against top-six rivals, the Brazilian is expected to inject more attacking enterprise through the middle.
Fred, although unafraid of the defensive duties that come with being a box-to-box operator, is renowned more for his creativity and craft in the centre. Possessing a fine left foot but also comfortable on his right, Fred loves the ball to feet and picking a forward pass. Last season, the 25-year-old averaged 22.92 forward passes per game to 8.69 backward passes, making clear his ability to drive Shakhtar toward goal.
One of Fred’s most recent assists, against Zorya Luhansk, showed off his powers of invention, playing not one but two first-time key passes to set up Facundo Ferrerya’s goal.
With 1.1 open play key passes to Herrera’s 0.75, it’s clear Fred will offer Mourinho more creativity in midfield, but there are departments in which the former Athletic Bilbao man comes out on top.
Mourinho’s trust in Herrera stems from the 28-year-old’s stringent dedication to his defensive work. With 13.12 duels won per 90 compared to Fred’s 8.31 and 5.13 interceptions to 4.17, Herrera is a superior reader of the game.
However, given the increasing demands for Mourinho to deliver thrilling, attacking football in keeping with United’s traditions, Fred represents the more attractive option given what he can offer at both ends of the pitch.
Although not a prolific scorer, Fred has the edge on Herrera when it comes to making a difference in the final third. He netted four times last season, one of which was a stunning left-footed free-kick against Roma in the Champions League.
United fans should not expect spectacular finishes on a weekly basis, but it does reveal an insight into what the Brazil international is capable of in an attacking sense.
Bedding in period
He will, however, need time in which to adapt. It may sound like an easy assertion, but the Ukrainian league simply isn’t of the Premier League’s standard.
With that in mind, Fred’s first few months in England will be spent adapting to a new culture and a different manager in Mourinho, who is not synonymous with aesthetically pleasing football like his compatriot Paulo Fonseca at Shakhtar.
Luckily, Fred can be deployed in either a 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3. At Shakhtar, he was most often utilised as one of two midfield pivots, often dropping deep to pick up possession and find his more advanced team-mates. However, Fred is not alien to playing an ostensibly attacking role, either, having at times been shifted up to No. 10.
This tactical flexibility, it is hoped, will help smoothen Fred’s transition to English football.
Ultimately, Mourinho wants a player who will supply the link between defence and attack. Although Matic is competent on the ball, Fred is a quick, agile and sharp-moving presence, someone who can manoeuvre out of tight spaces and turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye.
Of course, the big question lies not with Fred’s talents but with Mourinho. Several promising midfielders with creative tendencies have struggled under his watch and the fear is the former Chelsea boss will hinder rather than help Fred’s progress.
Fred has spoken previously of how Fonseca entrusted him to express himself on the pitch. Mourinho will not do that. The United boss prefers his players to follow his detailed tactical instructions closely. Straying from them is doing so at their peril.
The acquisition of Fred bolsters United’s midfield. The Brazilian, set to feature at this summer’s World Cup, will bring speed, creativity and solid defensive work to the first-team.
At £52million, he is a considerable upgrade on Herrera but it remains to be seen whether he embraces Mourinho’s style, like Matic and Herrera, or clashes with it, like Pogba.
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by Tom Bodell