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Opinion: Fred is not to blame for Manchester United’s faltering midfield

The amount of frustration that Manchester United fans have right now when it comes to the players within the squad has to be at an all-time high and it’s understandable as to see why – times are far from the best with the team absent all too often on the pitch, while off it, there still remains the many dark shadow of the leeches sucking the life out of place!

Now, arguably, anyone not named David de Gea has the potential to be eating from the pie chart of accountability and deservedly so, however, a lot of the said frustration fans have with the performances we have seen on the pitch has been directed towards one particular individual but is it justified? Well that’s a difficult one to say because to the naked eye at times, yes, BUT when you sit back and look at what that individual has been and continues to provide then you actually have to say no, it isn’t and far from it.

Of course by now we are narrowing it down to a handful of players who this could be but since you’ve already spotted him in the headline, let’s just skip straight to the point. Very often whether it’s online, in the paper or even via a chat with your mates, Fred’s name seems to crop up within the conversation. As I said at the jump, it’s completely understandable because as a whole this squad deserves to be questioned with what we are seeing all too consistently from United on the pitch. With that said though, he is not at fault as many suggest and in fact over the past year he’s arguably been the heart of a United midfield that’s been crying out for reinforcements, structure and ability. How much is that down to him? Again, performance-wise a fair bit but he simply cannot be blamed for the lack of coaching under previous regimes nor can he be blamed for the neglect and lack of investment we all constantly have to put up with from those above.

Anyway, until the United hierarchy open their eyes and finally find the anchor man this team needs it’s down to Fred needs to put forward his best efforts and show the commitment which will ensure the rot does get any worse than it already is. The biggest question of all is however – can he do it? Well, to use that word again – naked eye – it’s very debatable at times I’ll concede that but if you were to look at the statistics then the answer is yes. He actually can and has been too.

With Bruno Fernandes alongside him, the emphasis on Fred being the creative spark within the midfield isn’t necessary, after all we all know and have seen since he’s been here, Bruno is that man and much much more. That said, what he does need to be able to do alongside Bruno is to provide that solid foundation that he – as well as the front three whoever they may be in front of them – can build upon. Statistically between them they have done it, continue to do it and actually do it as good as many while complimenting what is required of each other.

Fred’s role has long been questioned, having faced a lot of scrutiny with most questions seemingly being based upon his ability to pass the ball and his ability to tackle opposition players, so with that, where else better to start?

When it comes to passing the ball and getting the ball moving forward in particular, Fred has posted some very impressive numbers across the board and when you compare them to his fellow midfielders across the ‘big five’ leagues and European competitions, you have to be impressed. Over the past year up to today, the Brazilian’s average per 90 minutes sees him attempting 62.25 passes while completing 54.24 for a pass completion percentage of  87.1%. In terms of where those statistics place him, he’s in the 78 percentile for his attempted passes, 81 percentile for passes completed and finally 77 percentile for pass completion percentage. Now, just in case you have no idea what that means then do not worry, basically, Fred is very comfortably above average in all categories and especially when you consider that’s in comparison with again, ALL midfielders across the ‘big five’ leagues and European competitions. That’s quite something.

Looking at the range of his passes per 90 mins it’s very telling as while he’s in the 72nd percentile for both short passes attempted (23.25) and short passes completed (20.78) his short passes completed percentage of 89.4 only sees him in the 54 percentile (average being 88.6 and the highest – Toni Kroos – 96.6).

That in mind, as he extends his range his numbers follow and as such, passes between 15 and 30 yards which are considered as a medium type are of particular interest here. Attempting 26.62 passes per 90, completing 24.45 for a medium pass completion percentage of 91.9%, Fred find himself in the 80+ percentile in all. Of which is broken down as follows: Attempted passes – 81, passes completed – 83 and medium pass completion percentage – 85.

As for when it comes to passes longer than 30 yards and the long ball play, his attempts (8.22) and completions (10.03) do become significantly lower although they do provide him with his best overall passing percentile thanks to his 81.9% completion percentage which sees him in the in the 93 percentile. To finish up on passing stats, Fred finds himself in the 87 percentile for passes into the final third averaging 6.1 – again per 90 mins and in the 74 for progressive passes, which are measured by completed passes where the ball is moved towards the opponent’s goal at least 10 yards from its furthest point in the last six passes, as well as any completed passes into the opponent’s penalty area.

With his passing having been magnified, it now feels like the perfect time to shift our focus towards the part of the pitch where United have been scrutinised the most and that’s going back the other way and protecting their own goal which has of course led to just FOUR clean sheets in 21 Premier League matches as a team.

That said, again as with his passing stats, his defensive stats show he’s not to blame and are actually mightily impressive.

Over the past year, Fred has averaged 2.96 tackles a game (85 percentile) winning 1.89 (80 percentile) with 1.30 tackles averaged in the defensive third (81 percentile) and again 1.30 in the middle third (79 percentile). All of which are again very comfortably as we can see by the percentiles, above average among ALL midfielders across the ‘big five’ leagues AND European competitions.

Along with this, he also ranks in the 80 percentile for dribblers tackled (1.00) and in the 82 percentile in dribbles contested (2.83). A big part of this is due pressures which incidentally is something that interim manager Ralf Rangnick demands from his team. Of course, a large portion, if not, 90 odd percent of the stats discussed came before Rangnick was at the helm but they do include his period of time in charge also.

Anyway, Fred’s pressures over the last year sit at 24.30 per 90 mins (93 percentile) with a successful pressure average of 7.22 which sees him in the 92 percentile. For context, the average in both categories are 18.40 (pressures) and 5.49 (successful pressures).

Of course, as you would hope when broken down into thirds it’s the middle of the park, as we would expect is where his per 90 average is 12.69 which sees him in the 93 percentile. As for the defensive third, his average of 8.04 is nearly two more a game than the overall average which subsequently sits in the 86 percentile.

Saving the best until last, Fred is averaging 2.50 blocks per 90 which rewards him with his best overall percentile position of all, being in the 98 percentile. Along with that, it’s the high end 90’s for him again when it comes to passes blocked and his average of 2.07 sees him sitting in the 97 percentile. Wouldn’t have guessed that would you!? I know I didn’t before really diving deep into it!

With all the numbers laid out, one thing is for certain and undeniable… Fred in all of the categories mentioned in his passing game is very comfortably above average. Moreover, when it comes to the defensive side of things he is also excelling where it matters most and more then very comfortable among them. Biggest thing of all, it’s among his peers in not only England but also Spain, Germany, Italy and France including their European campaigns!

Granted, when it comes to the eye test you have to admit at times it’s not very pretty at all and like I said, the questioning and criticism of him is warranted especially when the team is half heartedly putting in performances and effort!

Finally, let’s be honest, he’s not going to do it game in game out, we all know that BUT you have to concede that if you go beyond the eye test, as I stated right at the top in the headline.. Fred IS NOT to blame for Manchester United’s faltering midfield. I could show you where a potential issue does lay but we will save that for another day!

Stats don’t lie.

*All stats stated are based on a per 90 minutes basis over the past 365 days of football via https://fbref.com/en/

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