By the time the season stuttered to an end for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho having to undergo the ignominy of his rival Antonio Conte lifting the FA Cup in front of him, it was clear that, however you spin it, something needs to change at the club.
Of course, the easiest way to achieve that is by bringing in new players.
With Sky Sports reporting that the Manchester club are in ‘advanced talks’ with Shakhtar Donetsk’s Brazilian midfielder Fred, it seems as though Jose Mourinho is already plotting his moves for the return of the Premier League after the summer.
But how does Fred fit into these plans?
A familiar route
In the last decade, Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk have become something of a holding club for Brazilian players hoping to make it in the top five leagues in Europe.
A quick glance at the list of alumni from the club reveals players like Fernandinho, Willian and Henrikh Mkhitaryan, amongst others, moving on from the club into the Premier League, suggesting that Fred could be joining a crowd of not insignificant luminaries.
The 25 year old from Belo Horizonte made the move to Ukraine quickly. Playing two seasons for Porto Allegre club Internacional in 2011-2013, he has since spent his time at the Dombas club, following them through their exile to Kyiv and their brief sojourn in the Metalist Stadium in Kharkiv where Shakhtar currently play their matches.
A Brazilian international, Fred has courted controversy on a number of occasions, most notably his testing positive for Hydrochlorothiazide during Copa America 2015 and his subsequent ban.
The ban being served, Fred will be present in Russia as part of a Brazilian side who will be strong favourites to win the tournament.
What to expect
Playing as a central defensive midfielder, Fred has all the qualities you might expect to see in such a position in the modern game.
A good passer with both feet, he also carries the ball well. In fact, in the Champions League, Fred averaged 3.3 take-ons per 90 minutes with a completion rate of 95%.
When it comes to his defensive attributes, despite his relative lack of height – being only 5 foot 7 inches tall – the Brazilian is an impressive tackler, averaging 2.9 tackles per 90 minutes in the Champions League.
Sitting in front of a defence, then, expect to see Fred participate in the defensive phase before helping his team transition into the attacking phase.
Where does he fit?
When it comes to Manchester United, though, it’s hard to see how Jose Mourinho will fit him into the side.
For most of the season, Jose Mourinho has encouraged his team to play a form of counter-attacking football that is catalysed from a deep-lying block, usually in a 6-3-1 formation.
With the two wide forwards dropping back into the wing back areas and the three midfielders sitting in front of what is now effectively a back six, Manchester United look to absorb pressure, win the ball and then break at speed to catch their opponents out.
Whatever basic formation this tactic is applied to – 4-2-3-1 or 4-3-3 – Mourinho utilises either one or two deeper-lying midfielders: Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba or Ander Herrera.
Bringing in Fred, it seems likeliest that Fred would replace Ander Herrera in the double pivot role. However this would commit Mourinho to a 4-2-3-1-type formation.
Were he to go with a midfield three, it’s hard to see Fred displacing Matic as the defensive midfielder so the question would then be whether the Brazilian would be preferred to Jesse Lingard as more of a No 8.
Upsetting the noisy neighbours
Of course, there is some sense in which this transfer rumour has all the insouciance of a Jose Mourinho stunt.
With Pep Guardiola signalling interesting in Fred – who seems the natural successor to Fernandinho in a lot of respects – this could simply be Mourinho’s way of frustrating the Premier League champions.
If it is, then Manchester United fans should be worried. However successful they claim last season’s performances were, it was clear to everyone that there is a lack of tactical direction at the club.
Unless the Portuguese manager can find a system that works for Fred, it looks like the Brazilian could be the next in a long litany of thoughtless transfers at Manchester United.
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