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Manchester United, 2018–

Fred – full name Frederico Rodrigues de Paula Santos – represented various youth clubs in his native Brazil before eventually progressing through the ranks of Internacional in Porto Alegre. It was there that the then 19-year-old made his first-team breakthrough, during the 2012 Brazilian domestic campaign. Throughout his first season in senior football he made more than 30 appearances.

In the opening months of the 2013 Série A season, the young Brazilian agreed a €15m move to Ukraine, specifically to join Shakhtar Donetsk and a squad featuring a number of his countrymen. With now Juventus winger Douglas Costa and Shakhtar captain Taison already present, Fred’s transition was made significantly easier. He impressed in his first season, scoring twice in 23 appearances as they won the Ukrainian Premier League, the first of three domestic titles to complement the three Ukrainian cups Fred won in his five seasons there.

In June 2018 Shakhtar agreed a reported fee of around £52m to sell him to English giants Manchester United. Fred was then away with Brazil’s World Cup squad, but he received permission to leave in order to complete his move. He is yet to truly establish himself in their national team, but will hope that the increased profile he should enjoy at Old Trafford will help him become more crucial to their future plans, if after an inconsistent first season in Manchester he can become crucial to their new-look midfield.

Tactical analysis
Fred is different to many traditional defensive midfielders, in that he is excellent in attacking possession. His quality on the ball is shown from his incisive through balls and ability to drive forward in open play or during transitional moments. The higher up the pitch he roams, the more effective his forward passes become – he often splits open opposing defences with ease (above). His box-to-box style is regardless perhaps better suited to playing alongside a second deep-lying midfielder whose primary role is to protect the defence.

Perhaps surprisingly, his skills in possession are more limited when building out from the goalkeeper. He is not one to withdraw to between splitting central defenders, should his team look to restart with short passes from the goalkeeper. He can be caught in possession, particularly when pressed from behind (below), if taking too long to decide which pass to play when in deeper areas. He also lacks the movement to receive with his body open in order to progress possession from deep.

What Fred lacks in build-up phases he makes up for towards the final third. He always wants to move possession forwards, even when it is not necessarily the most obvious option, and his tricky turns and ability to dribble through crowds help him away from pressure and into empty midfield spaces, where he is also capable of switching play (above). Fred can similarly be a threat from central free-kicks.

Despite his smaller stature for traditional deeper midfielders – he stands 5ft 7ins – he protects the ball well, often intelligently drawing fouls that can create additional set-pieces. These fouls can also help relieve pressure should his team face intense attacking spells.

Role this season
Ander Herrera’s departure to Paris Saint-Germain contributed to Scott McTominay being deployed alongside Fred, in a double pivot, with the Brazilian supporting but given more of a licence to roam forward, particularly during attacking transitions. This can also enable Paul Pogba to play in a more advanced role, should he remain at Old Trafford.

If Fred is used as a lone pivot, then United will set up with more advanced central midfielders, in which case Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Juan Mata are likely candidates. Regardless of which central midfield combination is selected, Fred will face regular competition for a starting place. Nemanja Matic and McTominay are both alternative candidates in defensive midfield.

The main concern surrounding selecting Fred as the lone defensive midfielder is that he lacks the ability to control, defensively, the space in front of the back line. Without the experience and defensive nous of Matic – as he once was – or Herrera alongside him, as the single pivot Fred is likelier to get overrun.


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