Manchester United finally confirmed the signing of Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred last week, as José Mourinho looks to fill gaps in his squad following a couple of first-team departures ahead of the 2018-19 season.
It was revealed at the start of the month that a deal for the Brazilian, thought to be worth in excess of £50m, had been agreed with Shakhtar, but Visa regulations meant a delay in unveiling him as a Man United player.
Mourinho is thought to be keen on acquiring two new midfield stars this summer to replace Michael Carrick, who retired from his playing duties in May to join Mourinho’s backroom staff, and Marouane Fellaini, whose contract is set to expire on 1 July, after a failure to agree new terms due to extortionate wage demands. Fred is a welcome new face at Old Trafford, but which system will be played in?
Mourinho’s preferred system since taking over at United has been a 4-3-3, with Nemanja Matić, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba the three main-stayers in the midfield. Fred’s arrival could prompt a change in formation, but his most likely role will be alongside Pogba in front of Matić as part of a three in the middle of the park.
It would be harsh on Herrera, however, the 2016-17 Sir Matt Busby Player of the Season, and could risk the Spaniard leaving the club within the next year. The 25-year-old could also fill in for Matić whenever the experienced defensive midfielder is in need of a rest, which would offer more game time for the likes of Herrera and Scott McTominay.
4-2-3-1 is also a popular system with the United boss, and has been used just as much as 4-3-3 during his two-year tenure so far. This is a formation Fred would fit into easily, too.
It could allow Pogba to take up a much more advanced role, whilst Fred and Matić combine their energy and stability to cover the defence and transition play into the attack. This formation could also provide more opportunities for United’s array of attacking stars, with at least one more expected to arrive during the close season.
It certainly wouldn’t be surprising if Mourinho starts the new campaign using his familiar 4-3-3, but we’ll certainly get a greater idea from what we see during pre-season from 15 July onwards.
United supporters saw the team occasionally use a three-at-the-back system throughout the 2017-18 season, usually to match the tactics of the opposition, but the more attacking 3-4-1-2 formation was used.
It’s more likely to be a 3-5-2 with Fred involved – he would be on the right of Matić, Pogba on the left, with two full-backs making up the line in front of the three centre-backs.
Fred is said to have a high defensive work rate with quality key passing and an eye for goal, traits that not only make him a terrific midfielder but the ideal candidate to fit into this system. Matić, Pogba and Fred’s different strengths make up an exciting prospect in midfield for United.
The 4-1-4-1 would once again allow all three stars to play together, and is the formation Pep Guardiola deployed for his brilliant Premier League title-winning Manchester City side last season. United certainly have the players to pull it off.
Hard-working wingers like Alexis Sánchez and Jesse Lingard on either side of Pogba and Fred, with Matić as the anchor behind, is a nice thought, but the formation isn’t one Mourinho has experience working with. It is also unlikely he’d make such a sudden change over one new face.
Fred featured as a central midfielder, rather than a defensive midfielder, in 35 of his 37 appearances for Ukrainian champions Shakhtar last term, so it’s much more realistic that Matić will remain a key fixture in Mourinho’s starting line-ups for the foreseeable future.
There are plenty of ways the Brazil international can be utilised, but which will his new manager opt for? We’ll have to wait and see when he’s finished representing his nation at this summer.