'I'm getting better' - Can Man Utd flop Fred save his Old Trafford career?

Fred Manchester United 2019-20
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The Brazilian has finally managed to nail down a regular starting berth in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's team but the pressure remains on to prove his worth

Nobody needs to tell Fred that his first season at Manchester United was not a success. He is aware and honest enough to have admitted that himself.

Nonetheless, the £52 million ($67m) signing from Shakhtar Donetsk felt there were mitigating circumstances.

“The Ukrainian league isn't as strong as the Premier League,” he pointed out recently. “It’s faster and more physical here.

“You need to start games strongly and finish them strongly. It’s the full force for 90 minutes, but it takes time to adapt to English football when you come from Ukraine, even though I was playing against some of the best teams in the Champions League. But I believe I'm adapting.”

He's certainly improving.

After Paul Pogba limped out of United's 1-1 draw with Arsenal at the end of September with an ankle injury, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer revealed that Fred would fill the void and called on the Brazilian to "step up".

The 26-year-old has done just that. Fred has now started United's last five Premier League games and was man of the match in his last outing, a 3-1 win over Brighton on Sunday.

Solskjaer, who hailed the midfielder's 'excellent' performance as the 'catalyst' for the victory, is now being rewarded for the faith he has placed in a player that he didn't even include in his squad for United's opening four games of the season.

Of course, it was hardly surprising that the Norwegian was initially reluctant to rely on Fred. The player's debut campaign had been dismal.

Fred had arrived from Shakhtar Donetsk with plenty of expectation last summer. Fans and, apparently, coaches were delighted to have beaten Manchester City to his signature.

Fred Manchester United PS

Giddy supporters trawling through YouTube (that most reliable of football scouts...) for clips of their new acquisition were enthused by what they saw: Fred was direct, he was pacey, and, perhaps most importantly of all, he was not Nemanja Matic.

Put him alongside Paul Pogba and United would have someone to shuttle effectively and with additional energy between attack and defence.

However, the Fred that blighted last season was one who had joined an unhappy team.

Former manager Jose Mourinho showed his displeasure with his employers' summer transfer dealings in his first summer press conference and proceeded to set metaphorical fires everywhere until he was sacked, in December of last year.

As the rest of the side fell apart into acrimony and indifference, it was logical that Fred would add nothing in such circumstances. Adapting to the Premier League is difficult enough without having to cope with a full-blown crisis at the same time.

Even the arrival of Solskjaer didn't help his cause. He started only seven times under the new boss last season.

He was still off the pace and he became infamous among fans for passing either to an opponent or to the touchline.

Now, though, thanks to the opportunities afforded to him by Pogba's absence, he is starting to look something resembling his old self.

In the past few weeks, he has managed to stop kicking the ball out of play under little pressure. He has taken the ball on the half-turn and he has always had an attacking endeavour that is now of use.

With Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Daniel James playing ahead of him, he has a few team-mates to make room for him. His passing is not yet threatening enough to worry his opponents, but it can now take them by surprise. 

As Scott McTominay has emerged as an authoritative presence, the Scot's increasing physicality has given space to both Fred and Andreas Pereira to, if not flourish, then exist.

Fred Manchester United PS

All three are essentially discovering how to play Premier League football regularly, and the three of them of late have hinted that they can form a competent trio.

The challenge now, with McTominay having joined Pogba in the treatment room, is for Fred to take control of the midfield.

He may next be partnered by Pereira and Matic, who is reportedly keen on departing as soon as the winter transfer window.

McTominay has shown the desire that suggests he is a future leader of the side, but the spotlight is now shining on Fred to move to prove he is now ready to become a reliable old head in an exceptionally young Premier League side.

United are known to be keen on both England international Declan Rice and Norwegian midfielder Mathias Rostov, who could both arrive in January, so the pressure is on Fred to maintain his resurgence.

Happily, he now seems capable of rising to the challenge.

He is happier than he has ever been since moving to Manchester and is immensely grateful to Solskjaer for not only giving him a chance to play regularly but also miss part of pre-season so that he could get married.

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“I have a good relationship with the manager and the coaches,” he said after the 1-1 draw with Liverpool. “They are always encouraging me and I feel the support of fans, too. And I thank them for that.

“I’m learning day by day. I feel like I’m getting better. I have a big heart. I will play better.”

He needs to, if he is to salvage his Old Trafford career. But then, nobody needs to tell him that either.