Fred vs Fabinho: Did Liverpool or Man Utd get the better Brazilian?

Fred is officially a red, and so is Fabinho, but which club signed the better player?


REUTERS/Peter Cziborra

From Donetsk to Manchester, from Monaco to Liverpool, both Fred and Fabinho are now donning a red jersey in the north of England for Manchester United and Liverpool, respectively.

Fred is the latest central midfielder to join the ranks of the Red Devils in Jose Mourinho’s efforts to  free Paul Pogba finally, whilst Fabinho was Liverpool’s first signing of the summer, paving the way for Emre Can’s free transfer to Italian champions Juventus.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder joined for a reported fee of £47 million, whilst his compatriot cost in the region of £39 million, though the fee is set to rise beyond the £40 million mark with success based add-ons.

In that sense, there’s nothing to separate the two Brazilians in terms of cost, but from a footballing perspective, which club got the better player?

Two mini Fernandinhos

BBC’s South American football expert Tim Vickery described Fred as a “mini version of Fernandinho,” and, in truth, you can see an element of Manchester City’s Brazilian in both Fred and Fabinho.

Pep Guardiola often showers Fernandinho with praise because of his stunning ability both on and off the ball, in terms of his range of passing as well as his defensive contributions.

Hence, the comparisons with both Fred and Fabinho.

REUTERS/Matthew Childs

As the Champions League is perhaps a better indicator of how Fred will fare in European football -and since statistics on the Ukrainian Premier League are seemingly nonexistent- we’ll use this as a basis of comparison.

Passing

Fred is an excellent passer of the ball and is extremely two-footed, a fantastic advantage when under pressure in central midfield.

For example, Fred recorded an 85.9% passing accuracy in eight Champions League games, whilst Fabinho managed success 77.6% of the time.

Press resistance

Where Fabinho edges out his compatriot, however, is in his ability to resist pressing.

The former Monaco midfielder is calm under pressure, denoted by the fact that he mis-controlled the ball only 0.7 times per game in five Champions League appearances, whilst Fred suffered this fate over twice per game.

REUTERS/Jean-Pierre Amet

Moreover, Fabinho was better able to retain the ball, given that he was dispossessed less than once per game (0.6 / game), whilst Fred lost the ball nearly twice per game (1.9 / game).

Does this matter, however?

Mourinho and Jurgen Klopp utilise contrasting styles of football, with Liverpool active and Manchester United passive, playing on the back foot. With less possession, Fred is on the ball far less than Fabinho.

Thus, instances of mis-control and dispossessions are considerably less important to United’s overall gameplan.

What’s more important for a Mourinho midfielder is the ability to pass the ball vertically. This is where Fred excels. He made 5.4 long balls per game in the Champions League, whilst Fabinho fell short with 4.7.

Again, though, the ability to pass long is more significant for United -who use quick transitions as a means of counter-attacking- than Liverpool, with Klopp preferring similarly quick, but short, intricate ground passing to rip through the opposition.

Multi-trick ponies

With Fred playing in a safety-first Manchester United side and Fabinho likely to sit in front of the defence with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Naby Keita playing ahead of him, defence is a crucial aspect to their playing styles.

Defensive actions

Given Fabinho’s natural position as a defensive midfielder -and where he’ll play for Klopp’s Liverpool-, he’s expected to have made more defensive actions that his compatriot.

FredFabinho
Tackles / game2.251.40
Interceptions / game11.8
% duels won53.54%46.34%

However, in their respective Champions League campaigns, Fred won more tackles per game (2.25) and a greater percentage of his duels overall (53.54%).

What will stand out for Klopp, though, is the fact that Fabinho made 1.8 interceptions per game, a key tool in the skillset of a number six, especially one playing in a possession-orientated side.

It’s worth noting that Fred’s Shakhtar were in a group containing Manchester City and Napoli and spent a majority of his European campaign on the back foot, as well as in a defensive double pivot with Taras Stepanenko in a 4-2-3-1.

Ball progression

With Nemanja Matic likely to play the more defensive role in United’s midfield three, Fred will sit just in front, tasked with linking defence to attack and bringing Paul Pogba into the game. This is another area in which Fred excels.

For instance, the 25-year-old completed 2.9 dribbles per Champions League game, compared to Fabinho’s one.

United are lacking Fred’s aggressive ball progression in their current midfield, and whilst it’s a desired attribute in Fabinho’s game, it’s not essential given the more offensive presence of Naby Keita and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Offensive threat

Fred, moreover, created 1.13 chances per game in the Champions League, comparing favourably to Fabinho’s 0.2, though this figure rises to 0.97 in Ligue 1.

Manchester United’s midfielder also took more shots (1.63) per game than Fabinho (0.2), but the latter has scored more career goals (25) than his compatriot (17), including seven in 2017/18.

A bonus certainly, but goals and assists aren’t necessarily what each player has been bought for.

Square pegs for square holes

Overall, both players appear to fit well into the roles their managers have bought them for, as you’d both hope and expect.

The Ukrainian Premier League, however, has dropped in quality since Fernandinho played there, whilst the French Ligue 1 is slightly more competitive, though that’s not a foolproof indication that Fabinho will thrive and Fred won’t given Tiemoue Bakayoko’s struggles for Chelsea since last summer’s move from Monaco.

Fred, statistically, -albeit based on a limited sample size- seems to be the better all-round midfielder, but both can ultimately only be judged on how well they fulfil their roles.

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Oli Stein

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Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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