You’d be hard pushed to describe the majority of Manchester United’s transfer business in recent years as anything other than underwhelming.
Granted there’s been the odd gem – calm down Bruno Fernandes fan boys, we know – but some of the other acquisitions have failed to live up to their (usually) astronomical price tags.
One player who up until the last year or so would certainly have been mentioned in such a conversation is Fred.
The Brazilian struggled in his first season at Old Trafford following his £47m arrival from Shakhtar Donetsk, but having been given time to settle he’s beginning to prove himself to be a real asset in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side and their bid to re-emerge as one of the powerhouses of English football.
While Fred’s partnership with Scott McTominay at the base of the United midfield has flourished this season in particular, the Red Devils’ clash with Real Sociedad in the second leg of their Europa League last 32 tie showed a whole different side to the midfielder.
With Solskjaer’s men 4-0 up from the opening leg, the second half of the tie at Old Trafford was essentially a kick about.
Once the first 20 minutes had been safely navigated and there was evidently no chance of a sensational turnaround, United began to play with a little more freedom, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka even taking the opportunity to hone his forward play – with differing results.
With no need for defensive cover, Fred opened up the taps and took it upon himself to make a pretty drab affair interesting – and he didn’t do a bad job of it at all.
The Brazilian carried the threat to Real Sociedad in the first half, picking up the ball from deep and driving at the visitors with intent and purpose. With Nemanja Matic sitting in the midfield, Fred was given the chance to roam – and roam he did.
The midfield man was everywhere throughout the first half – even popping up in the Sociedad box as the most advanced United player on the pitch at one point – and he remained positive whenever he had the ball at his feet too, looking to play through the lines and launch attacks.
Not to be denied his customary cynical challenge of the game, the 27-year-old was booked midway through the first half for what we’ll call a ‘professional foul’ for the purpose of wanting to be nice to him, but it didn’t take the shine off what was a very positive first-half performance before he was withdrawn at half time with the huge clash with Chelsea at the weekend in mind.
Solskjaer has been criticised at times for his negative approach to crunch clashes, with 0-0 draws picked up in the Premier League against Chelsea, Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool already this season.
Fred’s performance in the clash with Sociedad was a reminder of just how effective he can be when afforded the chance to play in a more advanced role, and it could be something Solskjaer looks to utilise in big games in the future without deviating from his preferred midfield base of McTominay and the Brazilian.