After Fred’s first season at Manchester United, it was tough to envision him living up to his £52 million price tag and becoming part of the club’s long-term solution in midfield. The Brazilian himself bluntly described his first season in the north as “awful” in a recent interview.

Despite an underwhelming first year, the 2019-20 season saw changes for United’s midfield personnel and tactics. This helped bring a change in fortune for Fred and Manchester United’s midfield in general. 23-year-old Scott McTominay has emerged as one of the Premier League’s best young midfielders, making twenty appearances and scoring four times for the club. This season also saw longtime Red Devils target, Bruno Fernandes, arrive in January. The Portuguese midfielder wasted no time acclimating to the EPL, scoring twice and assisting three times in just five games before the COVID-19 pandemic brought the season to an abrupt halt.

Fred’s performances have also improved. Appearing in twenty-five of United’s twenty-nine Premier League matches, he has created more chances from open play than any of his teammates with sixty. Fred has also won back possession of the ball more than any other midfielder in the top six, but he still lacks a single premier league goal in the season. While the futures of Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić at the club remain in question, do Man United need to upgrade in midfield, or has Fred proven himself to be worthy of the job? This scout report will give a full tactical analysis will look to answer that question.

Player profile

Standing at 5’7” and weighing only 137 lbs, Fred lacks the physically imposing frame of other holding midfielders. Despite his small frame, his ability to anticipate play and position himself well combined with his aggressive pressing instincts, make him very skilled at winning the ball back. Off the ball, he prefers to be aggressive and press the opposition rather than sit back and defend an area. Because of this, he works best in a double pivot, preferably next to a more physically imposing midfielder who can do a better job screening the defence.

Offensively Fred likes to get forward as well. He is always looking to advance the ball up the field and attack, which makes him a good player in counter-attacking situations. The midfielder also excels in tighter spaces where his smaller frame is an asset. He is able to quickly slip around opposition defenders and break the lines by using his creativity to catch the opposition out with an unexpected touch or pass. Despite his small frame, he protects the ball well, thanks to his good balance and shielding skills.

Fred has struggled when dropping deep to start play and receiving the ball off the centre-backs. He attempts to move the ball forwards but often sees his passes intercepted. He also struggles in front of goal. The Brazilian lacks a single premier league tally to his name, as his attempts are often wayward and sail off target.

Reads the game well

One of the Brazilian’s biggest strengths from a defensive standpoint is his ability to read the game and anticipate where the ball will end up in order to step in and win it back.

In this scenario Man City right-back Joao Cãncelo has just beaten United left-back Brandon Williams in the air after a diagonal ball from Harry Maguire. The ball has fallen to Phil Foden who attempts a headed pass in the direction of Sergio Agüero. When out of possession, Fred was tasked with defending the right side of the midfield. As seen in the image, this resulted in Fred marking Ilkay Gündoğan when City were building out from the back.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred’s midfield partner, Nemanja Matić, has over-committed himself in the direction of Foden and failed to win the ball. This results in Matić being caught flat-footed and allows Bernardo Silva to slip freely behind his back and into the middle of the park. As Foden heads the ball in Agüero’s direction, Bernardo Silva makes a forward run in anticipation of a lay-off from his Argentine teammate.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

As Foden heads the ball in Agüero’s direction, Silva makes a forward run in anticipation of a lay-off from his Argentine teammate. Fred also anticipates the layoff and begins to advance into an area where he can make a play on the ball.

The layoff comes and as Silva prepares to take his first touch, Fred makes takes his first step of acceleration towards Silva. The Brazilian has anticipated the play well and taken up a position where he does not have to cover much ground to attack the ball.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Matić does well to recover and is able to block Silva getting around the front of him and cutting right. This leads Silva straight into the path of Fred who is able to win the ball and cleanly and immediately start a counterattack back up the field.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tacticsThe counter eventually fizzles, but this analysis shows his ability to read the game and position himself well so that he can strike when the moment is right. This makes up for his lack of physical attributes.

Aggressive pressing game

Fred is a remarkably aggressive presser of the ball. He will often vacate his zonal position on the field if he recognises a numerical superiority and an opportunity for his team to win the ball.

Here we have another example from United’s 2-0 win over City. In this instance, Williams is able to stop the forward progress of Silva, forcing him to pass sideways into the feet of Rodri. Fred recognises that United are in a 4 v 2 situation and leaves his position in left midfield to press Rodri, creating a 5 v 2 situation for United.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Due to Fred’s aggressive pressing, Rodri is unable to turn and switch the play. Instead, he is forced to play back to Silva first time.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

After Rodri passes back, Fred continues to follow the ball and begins pressing Silva. Once again, he seals off the middle part of the field and forces his opponent further towards the sidelines.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred’s teammates do not give him help until it is too late. Matić, Fernandes, and Anthony Martial fail to close their distances and apply pressure to the city players. As Fred advances in on Silva, he forces the city playmaker into the area patrolled by Williams. Williams reacts too late and gives Silva an open lane where he can pass to winger Foden, allowing City to break free from the 5 v 2.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Eventually, Silva loses the ball and it falls to Rodri, who is pushed back and fouled by Luke Shaw.

United did not win the ball back here, but this scenario does a good job of displaying just how aggressive Fred’s pressing game is. The right-sided midfielder pushes past his left-sided midfield partner, all the way to the opposite sideline in pursuit of the ball. Perhaps if his teammates worked with him, it would have resulted in a more positive outcome.

Forward passing

Fred is the type of player who is constantly looking to move the ball forward and isn’t content with simply moving the ball side to side. Here is an example from United’s 1-0 defeat away to Bournemouth this season. United recycle possession after a Nathan Aké clearance. Maguire settles a back pass and looks forward to the feet of Fred, who is in acres of space in the midfield.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred receives the ball under no pressure and immediately turns forward.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

As Fred turns forward, left-winger Daniel James spreads himself out wide. Fred takes two touches forward and draws the attention of the entire Bournemouth back-line.  Bournemouth’s two wide players (circled in blue) are hesitant to track the wide run of James, due to the possibility that Fred plays a pass to the opposite side of the field and they need to shift further infield.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

With just two dribbles forward, Fred has manipulated the entire Bournemouth back-line, and given James space to receive the diagonal ball in a crossing position.

Counter-attacking

Fred is also an effective counter attacker; his small stature allows him to burst away from crowded situations deep in his own half with the ball. He has the ability to carry the ball forward himself and also break the lines with a forward pass.

In this scenario from the Bournemouth game, David De Gea has just pulled off a tremendous double save. Fred collects the rebound in stride away from the goal and two Bournemouth attackers immediately converge from either side.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred takes his first touch on the ball away from winger Ryan Fraser and in the direction of striker Callum Wilson. This results in Fraser backing off the play and means Fred only needs to deal with the threat of Wilson. As you can see from the blue line, Wilson’s momentum is taking him across the front of Fred.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred recognises this and understands that all he needs to do is let Wilson run past him.  The Brazilian takes a moment to stop and protect the ball from the onrushing Wilson, who sails by and takes himself out of the play.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

After beating his man, Fred wastes no time driving forward, seeking to catch the Cherries on the break. He takes a couple of strides before picking up his head and hitting a low driven pass that beats three Bournemouth players and arrives at the feet of fellow Brazillian Andreas Pereira.

Fred 2019/20 Scout Report - tactical analysis - tactics

Fred has beaten four Bournemouth players in just a few quick seconds to start off the counter.

Conclusion

Fred is a unique player. His small size is irregular for a defensive midfielder and it prohibits him from sitting back and screening the back-line as a traditional defensive midfielder might do. Instead, he likes to press the opposition with aggression and will often vacate his area if he sees an opportunity to win the ball. He reads the game well and often wins the ball when his team presses as a unit. His aggression means he works best in a double pivot, playing with someone who has a larger physical presence and is more comfortable sitting back and screening the back-line.

Fred’s passing is less effective on the ball when asked to pick the ball up from his centre-backs. He works better when picking the ball up in an attacking position or driving from deep in counter-attacking transitions. He is a type of player who constantly looks to move the ball forward and uses creative dribbles and passes to do so. His finishing is his Achilles heel in attack, with his shots often missing the target.

Jay Hickey
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