In pictures: Man Utd v Aston Villa
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Manchester United’s match against Villarreal on Wednesday night is of huge importance. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side have been in poor form of late, with Fred coming under fire as a result. And it’s nights like this where the Brazil international will be judged because, if he fails to perform, criticism is likely to be stinging.
Fred is a maligned figure among United fans.
Some recognise the Brazil international’s tenacity in the middle of the park, whereas others see him as a liability within Solskjaer’s side.
But, regardless of what side of the fence you’re sitting on, this is a player both Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho admired just three years ago.
In 2018, City wanted Fred – believing he’d be ideal to go alongside Fernandinho.
But it was a phone call from Mourinho that ultimately swayed him into moving to United instead, with Le 10 Sport saying he picked up the phone that year to win the race for his signature.
In the end, United got Fred in the door.
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Yet, in the years since, the Brazilian has struggled for consistency.
At present, the majority of this United side is perfect. Let’s start with the goalkeeper, for example.
David De Gea appears to be back to his best, with the Spain international enjoying a fine beginning to the current campaign.
A backline of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw is likely to get better and better as the season goes on.
And, up top, Solskjaer is spoiled for choice when it comes to picking from the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani.
It is only their midfield, really, that makes them vulnerable.
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And it’s been clear in recent weeks that Fred has struggled, with the Samba star failing to control that area against opponents such as Southampton, Young Boys and Aston Villa so far.
So, now, it’s time for the real Fred to stand up tall.
If United lose to Villarreal on Wednesday night, their involvement in this term’s Champions League will already be all but over.
They were beaten 2-1 by Young Boys last time out and a second consecutive defeat, certainly, would leave them with a mountain to climb.
But while questions marks have been asked around Fred, they should equally be aimed at Solskjaer as well.
The Norwegian is, after all, the man in charge when it comes to getting the best from his players.
And while he’s significantly improved Fred since taking over nearly three years ago, he’s failed when it comes to the player of late.
This is a player who was wanted by Mourinho and Guardiola.
A player Mourinho deemed was worth the hassle of a personal phone call, believing he could be the Red Devils’ midfield general.
So, now, the onus is on both Solskjaer and Fred himself to show United were right to make such an effort to beat City to his services.
The midfielder recently opened up on his form and admitted he was looking to improve, acknowledging he needs to work ‘every day’ to turn things around.
“I aim to improve and work a lot after training on my passing,” he told Inside United.
“Sometimes turning in the midfield, things more specific to my position.
“As I’ve said before, my objective is to get the ball to the forwards, to always be ready to receive the ball from the centre-backs, receive a pass and have the right body position to control it and find a good pass.
“I aim to improve in this area, this is the most important area to improve and develop in my position.
“I visualise this every day so I look to improve on positioning on the pitch, an additional pass, turns during a game, that’s what I look to work on every day.”
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