PLAYER ANALYSIS: Fred and Risk Versus Reward

One of the big take-aways from Manchester United’s 19/20 season is the change in issues. Under Jose Mourinho, many (including myself) thought Mourinho was a massive problem because United did have a lot of talent, but the manager failed to get the best out of them. Players like Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford were playing below their level, primarily down to a fallout with the manager, inconsistent minutes or being played out of position.

Solsjkaer deserved criticism for a lot of choices he has made, but one area in which I think he’s surpassed his predecessor is streamlining his squad. Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial have had their best seasons for the club, thriving in the spotlight that needed filling after the departure of Romelu Lukaku. Both players had massive questions marks over them. Could Rashford develop a better game to match his desire on the pitch; and could Martial show that killer edge in the box that we only saw glimpses of under Mourinho? The pair were finally given the trust needed to perform, and have been the highlight for Manchester United during a turbulent season.

There is one huge question that has loomed over Anthony Martial in particular. Is the high reward worth the risk? Martial is the best finisher at the club, isolates opposition defenders well and has improved his hold-up play throughout the season. But that does come at a cost. Martial is very selfish. When running towards the goal, the Frenchman will always choose to dribble or shoot instead of pass. I personally like this quality in him, and it’s why he is so good in front of goal. But I can’t deny that he has chosen the wrong options multiple times this season, costing United valuable points. When you compare Rashford and Martial, the former has a more balanced game, while the latter’s highs are a lot higher, as well as his lows.

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I bring up Martial and Rashford because it ties in well with another player who defines risk vs reward (and it isn’t Bruno Fernandes). When Fred arrived at the club, I didn’t really have an opinion on the transfer, besides the obvious risk involved. The only time we could see Fred play was in the Champions League, which is a small sample size to judge a player’s ability. It’s what made Manchester United signing Fred so confusing. Over £50 million on a midfielder who was more likely to fail than succeed was not something you expect from a club who usually don’t gamble on players so unknown. When United have spent big in recent years, it’s either been on high-profile domestic talent or big names from Europe’s elite (Pogba and Di Maria are the clear examples here).

I suspect United only signed Fred for the same reason they signed Alexis Sanchez; to beat their city rivals, Manchester City, to one of their rumoured targets. This seems more likely when you look at his debut season at the club. He only started 13 games for the club, and many of those appearances only happened through injuries to other members of the squad. The big problem with Fred was the other midfielders in the team were just better. Fred didn’t possess the same tenacity and bite as Herrera; the same experience and size of Matic or the likability of someone like McTominay. Pogba is arguably the player most comparable in terms of strengths, but there isn’t even a competition in terms of who is the better creative midfielder. Fred’s highlight in his debut season was that night in Paris. It was the first time I can recall the Brazilian showing composure on the ball and did help United show some control in midfield. It was the first sign Fred could be something in Manchester, other than another big-money midfield flop.

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Fred’s sophomore season in the Premier League has been very interesting. Starting on the defensive end, Fred’s numbers are quite surprising. Fred is second for tackles and interceptions per 90 with 3.69, with a majority of his tackles coming in the defensive-third. His amount of pressures is a significant anomaly for a midfielder. The former Shakhtar midfielder puts up 30.2 pressures per 90, which puts him in the top 10 for pressures per 90 in the league (out of players to play substantial minutes). It is quite baffling why Fred’s pressuring so much. The other notable midfielders to put up similar numbers would be Abdoulaye Doucoure, Joao Moutinho and Sean Longstaff. I think the massive difference between Fred and the three players listed would be role and system. Longstaff and Moutinho play in deep-block systems and in midfield three’s, meaning they’re given more freedom in midfield to pressure their opponents, without leaving so much space. Doucoure usually plays in a double-pivot but has been moved up the pitch under Nigel Pearson, now playing as the team’s unorthodox number ten. Fred plays in a double-pivot, usually alongside the more immobile Nemanja Matic or the attack-minded Scott McTominay.

The Brazilian is doing a lot more defensive work than he should be, which is pretty frustrating considering how good of a progressive passer he’s shown himself to be. Fred has completed 140 passes in the final third, the most in the Manchester United squad and 12th out of the whole league. Fred is quite a dangerous passer in a complimentary way. He’s always looking to play the ball forward and help the team through his ball progression. Before Bruno Fernandes’ arrival, Fred was the only player in the squad able to play that midfield-splitting ball, especially with Pogba being absent for a majority of the season. The 27-year-old can not only progress the ball through his passing but through dribbling. Fred attempts 2.18 dribbles with a 77% success rate. He might not be on the level of a prime Moussa Dembele or Thiago Alcantara, but that is still a respectable success rate and shows he isn’t a one-trick pony when progressing the ball.

It’s clear that Fred does offer a lot of positives for a midfielder, but there are obviously some drawbacks to the Brazilian’s strengths. Firstly, his desire to get the ball moving forward does bring out one of his more obvious flaws in his game; his shooting. Fred has this frustrating habit of taking shots from frankly awful positions, giving the ball away and possibly wasting a goalscoring opportunity for his team. He’s only taken 7 out of his 37 shots from inside the 18-yard box. It highlights the real issue of his decision-making. When opposition players put a lot of pressure on him, Fred can be quite erratic. When you compare Fred to someone like Verratti, their passes into the final third are very similar (Verratti has made 162 passes into the final third) but where they differ is creativity. You can make the very credible argument that Verratti averages a lot more passes into the penalty area (Verratti has made 43, Fred has made 13) because the Italian has better players in front of him and is playing under a much better coach. Still, it’s noticeable how wasteful Fred is when you compare how many shots the pair take. Verratti has only taken a single shot in the league, which further establishes just how good the former Pescara midfielder is at doing the role assigned to him. Verratti is not only a great progressor but can aid his team in the final third, something Fred is yet to do. That is the level Fred should be aiming towards, to be that complete midfielder, able to contribute in numerous ways on the pitch.

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The final question to ask about Fred is, are the drawbacks worth it? The Brazilian is a hard-working, energetic midfielder who helps United in getting the ball to the talented forwards. But he can halt attacks as they begin to look threatening if he is the one receiving the ball, instead of delivering. The arrival of Bruno Fernandes has undoubtedly taken some of the pressure away from Fred in trying to offer creativity and a goal threat. Yet, it doesn’t address the actual flaws in his game. If Fred was as good in the opposition’s half as he is in his own, the 27-year-old would be one of the most complete midfielders in the country.

Every Premier League Club’s Best Signing

Now with the transfer window coming to a close, and most clubs getting all of their business done, it’s time to look every clubs best summer signing. Most of these will be very brief, as I will be discussing 20 transfers and so not want to drag it on. Enjoy! (I will update this list if a certain club makes a better signing)

Arsenal – Lucas Torreira

Even with Arsenal signing 6 players, Torreira is the only exceptional bit of business. Torreira is a player I have praised all summer, for not only being a defensive machine, but also being an excellent passer, completing the most for Sampdoria last season. He will give Arsenal that bit of bite they have been missing since Gilberto Silva left the club. He will finally make Arsenal’s midfield look solid and will help them in their quest for top 4 again.

Bournemouth – Diego Rico

I still find it crazy that Bournemouth do not get more criticism than they should get. Last season was easily their poorest in their 3 years in the division, and no thanks to their defense. Bournemouth ranked bottom for tackles won, and 19th for interceptions. Their defenders were poor (besides Ake, who was pretty good) and it was their downfall in progressing from their 9th finish in 2016/17. The Cherries have brought in Leganes defender Diego Rico. Who had a very good season for the Spanish club. While Bournemouth were poor in a defensive sense, Rico was not. He was averaging an outrageous 5.5 tackles and interceptions per 90, which is a vast improvement over Ake’s 2.7. Hopefully Rico will add some solidarity to the back four and it might to an improvement compared to last season.

Brighton – Bernardo

Full backs are by far the most important position in football right now, which makes it crazy why there aren’t many to choose from in the world right now. Brighton, however, have added a very solid one to their ranks. The versatile defender Bernardo has signed from RB Leipzig, and is a very good addition. The Brazilian is excellent in the air, winning 2.8 aerial duels, while also completing 3.7 tackles and interceptions. He doesn’t offer much of an attacking threat however, but his versatility and defensive strength could be a real asset for seaside club.

Burnley – ?

As of the 30th of July, Burnley are yet to sign a player, which is confusing considering they could be playing Europa League football next season. This will be updated if they do sign a player however.

Cardiff City – Bobby Reid

I’m tipping Cardiff as relegation candidates. The Welsh side are probably the worst side that were promoted. Both Fulham and Wolves look more like Premier League sides, while Cardiff seem to be unable to possess the same quality. However I will give credit where it is due, with Bobby Reid being an excellent bit of business. The forward was excellent for Bristol last season, looking like a real all around forward. Finished the season playing every game, scoring 19 and assisting 7. He was averaging 1.9 shots per game. What is notable is where he is taking these shots from, with 1.2 coming from inside the penalty area, showing how he gets into very good areas. He also isn’t afraid to do some hard yards for the team, putting in 1.1 tackles per 90. If Reid can adapt immediately to the league, it could be the difference between survival and relegation for Cardiff.

Chelsea – Jorginho

Even though the Italian is the only signing Chelsea have made, he is still an excellent addition. For Sarri to impliment his system effectively, he needs a player who is excellent at controlling a game. Fabregas could do that, but his legs are gone. Who else to bring besides the guy who performed so well for Sarri’s last team, Napoli. The midfield maestro is a pass machine, averaging over 80 passes per 90 with a 90% accuracy. Chelsea have went from having an imbalanced midfield, into having one of the best in the league. That is how good of a signing Jorginho is.

Crystal Palace – Max Meyer

What an absolute bargain of a signing for the eagles. After some issues with the Schalke board, the young German was not given an extension on his contact, and was allowed to leave for free. Meyer was very good last season, topping the league with 2.8 interceptions. He was moved deeper last season, to take advantage of his ability on the ball, and it worked in his favour. He averaged an 89% pass accuracy last season, and ended the season with 4.3 tackles and interceptions. An improvement on his 1.2 in the 2016/17 season. Palace have given all of the creative burden to Zaha. Now with Meyer, it could allow Palace to be even more of a threat.

Everton – Richarlison

At the time of writing, Lucas Digne is very close to completing his move to Everton, however I still think Richarlison is the best signing of the window so far for the toffees. The young Brazilian looks like a real promising player. When many young wingers arrive in the premier league, they are usually incredible dribblers but do not contribute enough in front of goal (Adama Troare is the perfect example). Richarlison is not a great dribbler, however he is excellent in getting in goal scoring positions. While seeing the player not score a goal after November can be quite worrying, he is still very young, and his finishing will improve. A great signing all round.

Fulham – Jean Michael Seri

One issue many promoted teams face when arriving in the premier league is making that step up, to have the quality to stay in the league. Fulham have so far done a very good job in buying good level players, the likes of Mitrovic, Schurrle, Le Marchand and Fabri are all effective in showing the intention that Fulham are going for. However their best addition by far is Ivory Coast international Jean Michael Seri. Seri is a very good midfielder, not great, but is definitely an improvement on what they have. Seri averages 90 passes per game, with 2.1 key passes. He will add that extra bit of spark to the London side, and hopefully enough to stay up.

Huddersfield – Terence Kongolo

After looking at Huddersfield’s recruitment so far, I was very impressed. Selling Tom Ince and bringing in Sobhi is pretty good business. Diakhaby will give them another option, Eric Durm is a no risk signing, that could pay off. However getting Kongolo on a permanent was excellent. The Dutchman didn’t get much of a chance for Monaco, but he has excelled since arriving in Yorkshire. He was averaging 5 tackles and interceptions for Huddersfield, and even won a very good 2.2 aerial duels won. He doesn’t contribute much going forward however, but Wagner clearly is happy with the solid defensive work he does for the team. A great addition to the team.

Leicester – James Maddison

Replacing a player with Mahrez’s quality is a difficult challenge. The Algerian was an all rounder. He was able to create, dribble and also assist. The foxes made two great moves in doing this. The first being the acquisition of Portuguese full back Ricardo Pereira, a player with outstanding defensive and attacking numbers. The other was the signing of up and coming attacking midfielder James Maddison. The ex Norwich playmaker was absolutely excellent for them last season. Ending the season with 14 goals and 8 assists, making him one of very few players in the championship to end the season with over 20 goal contributions. His attacking numbers are actually very difficult to believe. He was averaging 2.8 key passes (David Silva averaged 2.2 last season), 2.6 shots, (Lukaku averaged 2.5), and 2.4 dribbles, more than Mahrez. A brilliant signing that could be the real push for Leicester.

Liverpool – Naby Keita

While the signings of Fabinho and Allison are both excellent in their own right, it is hard to compare to Naby Keita finally arriving at the club. The Guinean is one of the best box to box midfielders in Europe, and bringing him in for a bargain £50m (yes bargain) is excellent. Keita is a player who excels in all departments, being solid defensively, a good creator, an excellent dribbler and a player who will help massively in the final third. One void that Coutinho left when he departed to join Barcelona was his incredible dribbling ability. While Keita might not be as effective from distance, he still will be an brilliant player to give the ball to. Liverpool have lacked a player in midfield who can help against teams who sit back. Having Keita and Fabinho will help the reds break these teams down, and finally begin to launch a real title challenge.

Manchester City – Riyad Mahrez

Another signing here based on lack of options. Mahrez is a really good player, but they have spent a lot on a player who might not even play a majority of the games. This trick in bringing in league winning talent in every position has worked for Pep before. At Barcelona he had the choices Villa, Sanchez, Messi and Pedro. At Bayern he could choose Koman, Costa, Robben and Ribery. He likes to fill his team with players all at the same level, to increase competition to ensure every player is doing their best. the difference here is price. At Bayern, he used Costa and Koman as competition, who both costed less than £30m (Koman was on loan during Pep’s time as manager), and at Barca, Sanchez and Villa were not brought for much money at all. While I did think their wide talent did need strengthening, it was prominently their left side. However he will still perform very well for City and should help them retain the title.

Manchester United – Fred

I recently discussed the signing of Fred, but to reiterate, he is very good one. He might not be the flashy Brazilian signing we see in the modern game, but he is still a quality player. Fred is a very good box to box midfielder, able to fill in multiple roles, being able to play as a number 10 and a number 6. His biggest strength is his versatility. One issue United have been facing is how easy they are to suppress in big games. By just keeping Pogba out of a game, United always looked so much weaker and struggled to break teams down. Putting men on Pogba meant that he would have to come deep to receive the ball, basically making the Frenchman a zero threat. Having a player who also has good quality on the ball will mean the team will have more than one outlet of attack. Fred could be one very important signing.

Newcastle UnitedKenedy

While I like the permanent signing of Dupravka, I think bringing Kenedy back was a good move. I mentioned how much I liked Kenedy last season. He gave Rafa a real perfect winger. A guy who was able to put in some real defensive work, while also beating players and helping the team in a creative sense. Bringing him in for another season can only benefit the team. Newcastle are definitely going to struggle next season. They haven’t recruited in the right areas. They have failed to bring in a striker yet, with Mitrovic gone, and Gayle not performing last season. The magpies bringing back Kenedy will hopefully help them in their battle for survival.

Southampton – Mohamed Elyounoussi

Southampton’s biggest issue over the last couple of seasons has easily been their lack of goals. Charlie Austin was their top scorer last season with a small seven. While fixing the striker would be the easy solution, the goals from around the rest of the team just aren’t good enough. Nathan Redmond ended the season with only a single goal to his name. The worst part about that was he had 48 shots. The players are clearly needing competition. Bringing in the Norwegian international is very important. In 65 appearances in the swiss league, he got a goal contribution every 100 minutes. He was extremely impressive for Basel. He will add creativity, as well as a goal threat to a Southampton team in dire need for some.

Tottenham Hotspur – Harry Kane

While it isn’t technically a new signing, keeping their best player is so important, with Madrid looking for a new goal machine to replace Ronaldo. Spurs have put themselves in a position where they can never get rid of him. While they haven’t signed anyone, they don’t really have to. Everyone are saying they are weakened because of their lack of activity. But even if they do not sign someone. They have managed to keep Alderweireld and Rose, to players who were seemingly on their way out. Pochettino and Daniel Levy have managed this core group of players excellently. They are not in desperate need for a player, but some improvements could be useful. Maybe a back up to Eriksen could be handy to take the creative press off him (Grealish could fill that role) and a replacement for the aging Dembele (maybe going all out for Thiago Alcantara would be perfect). Spurs aren’t desperate for players, but improvements could definitely be made.

Watford – Gerard Deulofeu

Watford just seem so lackluster going into this season. They are in need for a new centre half, and most importantly, a striker. I am not expecting much from the hornets at all, however the signing of Deulofeu is still a good one. The Spaniard arrives at the club after joining them on loan back in January. After the loss of Richarlison, Watford now look like less of a threat in an attacking sense. Deulofeu and Richarlison are not similar players in the slightest. Richarlison is excellent at getting into the box and finding good areas, while Deulofeu is better at bearing his man and stretching the defense. Deulofeu makes them a bit less unpredictable. Let’s hope it’ll be enough for them to stay in the division.

West Ham United – Felipe Anderson

I’ve spoke about West Ham in another post, so I’ll keep this one short. Felipe Anderson is similar to Dimitri Payet in the sense of it gives West Ham a player with an ability to unlock a defense. I’m starting to love the fact that every team seems to be getting a top six standard player, and the Brazilian fits the bill. He is an incredible dribbler and is great creativily and in front of goal. West Ham needed to add goals to the rest of the team, and to add overall quality to match the aspirations of the owners. Anderson could definitely be that player to put them back into entertaining us again.

Wolves – Rui Patricio

No question in this choice. Wolves have signed a player (with the help of a certain super agent) who has not only won league titles, but has won a European trophy with his country. One area that recently promoted teams struggle with is defensively. Premier league teams attack in multiple ways, and it can expose a defense all sorts of ways. Having a goalkeeper who has played against and with some of the best players around, can only be beneficial. One of the best signings of the summer right here.