No longer a joke: Reborn Fred the symbol of new, more confident Man Utd

The Brazilian has been answering his critics with a series of fine performances as the Red Devils climb up the Premier League table

After weeks of poor results, doubts and calls for change at every level of the club, all of a sudden positive winds are blowing through the halls of Old Trafford. Manchester United are enjoying a mini-resurgence, with fine victories over Tottenham and Man City sending the club flying up the Premier League table.

That recent upturn is music to the ears of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who had faced serious questions over his suitability for such a demanding role after the early promise shown in his interim reign evaporated once the job was made his on a permanent basis.

But perhaps nobody in the United ranks will feel more vindicated than Fred, who in the space of little over a week has gone from being a “joke” to a cornerstone of this newly-confident side.

Signed from Shakhtar Donetsk for £50 million back in 2018, the Brazilian has become the symbol of all United’s failings, first under Jose Mourinho and now Solskjaer. Struggling to hold together a ponderous, ineffective team from his pivotal role in defensive midfield, he was deemed too slow for the breakneck English game and a millstone around United’s neck.

Former Arsenal defender Martin Keown certainly has no love lost for the Red Devils, but few came out to contradict him when he launched a savage criticism back in October.

“They’re so inept in possession,” Keown told the BBC of United following the club’s defeat at the hands of Newcastle United. “Fred, it’s almost becoming a joke when he gets the ball.

“I know it’s good closing down but you’ve got to be able to control it and pass. If that’s the central midfield then there’s not going to be anything created.”

To Fred’s credit, he refused to rise to the bait. “They are within their rights, they’ve won many titles with this club. We have to shut up and work on the pitch,” he said to Esporte TV of his detractors inside and outside Old Trafford.

“Some critics are pointless – but many can offer me lessons. I like to read what people are saying about my performances. With that, I can try to get better.”

In that sense, the much-maligned South American has delivered – thanks in no small part to Solskjaer’s own tactical nous. Having returned from an ankle injury that left him on the sidelines for almost a month, Scott McTominay was drafted back into the starting XI alongside Fred in midfield just in time for the visit of Spurs.

Bolstered by the presence of the tenacious Scot, Fred was afforded the luxury of time and space on the ball that has been in such short supply since moving to Old Trafford, and responded with a controlling performance as Mourinho endured a disappointing return to his former employers.

That display was no one-off. Fred was in the eye of the storm a matter of days later at the Etihad Stadium, pelted with cigarette lighters and other missiles from the City stands and allegedly subjected to racist abuse. But he rose above the barracking to spearhead one of United’s finest performances in recent years and nullified the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri in the middle to see Solskjaer’s charges home in another 2-1 triumph.

“Arguably man of the match today,” Solskjaer beamed to reporters. “He took the ball, he’s playing against Kevin De Bruyne, probably the best player in the league and I thought he was excellent.

“It’s great to see it, the boy deserves it. But when you get a run, and keep the team together, Scott and Fred have made a great partnership.”

Those two wins have certainly lifted spirits around Old Trafford. Sunday’s clash against Everton, though, is arguably a better test of United’s mettle: the kind of game they must win to muscle in on the Champions League places and precisely the kind of game that has given the Red Devils so much grief over the course of 2019-20, as they have dropped points against relegation candidates and sides mired in the bottom half of the table.

Fred is unlikely to see the pitch open up for him on the counterattack as he has in United’s last two league run-outs, with Everton set to pack their own half and play a far less expansive game than the likes of Spurs and City.

The onus remains on Fred to prove that recent his improvement is not just a flash in the pan and that he can sustain such performances on a regular basis. The clash against Everton, under the interim charge of former Toffees warhorse Duncan Ferguson, will be key for him and McTominay in front of an expectant Old Trafford. But one thing is certain: Fred is shedding his reputation as a figure of fun and, if he keeps up this renaissance, the only joke will be on his critics.

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