Manchester United have a problem that must be fixed in the January transfer window
When you sign a Brazilian for £52million then there is always going to be a heavy weight of expectation. Gradually Fred has shown himself unable to meet these expectations, in fact he’s arguably getting further away from them.
There is clearly a good footballer in there, let’s not forget Manchester City wanted him as well as United, but it’s getting to the stage where it might be wise to accept that he’s never going to show his best at Old Trafford.
United fans want him to succeed. Everyone inside the club wants him to succeed. But there’s little sign it’s going to happen. These European games are supposed to suit Fred’s style, but he looked ponderous in possession against AZ Alkmaar.
His cause wasn’t helped by playing alongside Nemanja Matic, who was uncomfortable on the plastic pitch, but as one United supporter tweeted during the first half, tongue only slightly in cheek, United could play Fred Done in midfield and not notice too much of a difference. The 26-year-old simply has to offer more to this side on nights like this.
Playing in a deep midfield position it should be Fred who sets the tempo for United, mixing the simple passes with the odd more adventurous ball, but far too often in Holland he gave the ball away. When he should be keeping the ball and keeping United ticking, he is instead putting his team on the back foot again.
There are places up for grabs in United’s midfield, but Fred isn’t showing the signs that he’s going to go and grab one of them. Instead he might find himself following the same path as Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez. It’s getting to the point where United might decide to cut their losses on their £52million Brazilian.
The centre of the pitch is a void of creativity for United. The first choice midfield is crying out for something slightly different, but there’s little sign that Fred is going to provide that, while Matic is a long, long way away from bringing to the pitch the qualities Scott McTominay currently offers.
Solskjaer has often spoken encouragingly of Fred. He knows United need a player like that in his team, one who can keep it simple when required while also getting them on the front foot, but his patience has to be wearing thin.
While AZ Alkmaar’s midfield anchors of Fredrik Midtsjo and Teun Koopmeiners both enjoyed a pass accuracy rate of 91%, United’s pair of Fred and Matic were down at 86%. Those numbers told the story of the game. While AZ had the ball and the quality to find forward passes and remain on the front foot, United found moves breaking down in the engine room all too often.
On this evidence it would be another bizarre United contract decision if Matic saw his deal, which expires at the end of the season, extended. There must also be considerable temptation to cut the losses with Fred.
United were desperate for midfield reinforcements this summer and a forgettable night in The Hague only revealed that the levels of desperation are increasing. Solskjaer’s side need someone who can set the tempo in midfield, finding the right passes at the right time.
He also badly needs a creator to start providing a better quality of chance to an attack that continues to misfire, especially after Jesse Lingard injured his hamstring late on against AZ. He’s hardly been at the top of his game recently, but with Paul Pogba also battling a persistent ankle problem United’s midfield is suddenly down the bare bones.
United have scored more than once in a game in just three of their last 22 fixtures. They’ve now not won an away game in 10 attempts. Fail to end that hoodoo at Newcastle on Sunday then things really will be grim.
The separate parts of this United side aren’t functioning on their own, but they’re also being let down by a midfield that should provide the glue to bring it all together. When the January transfer window opens at least one midfielder has to be high on Solskjaer’s shopping list.
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