We have always known Pereira has talent, but the question has always been whether he can produce it at the highest level. Part of the problem for Andreas has been getting regular football in his natural position – somewhere between a No.8 and a No.10. That’s a key role with a lot of competition and, moreover, not always included in the 4-3-3 that both José Mourinho and Olé Gunnar Solskjaer have generally preferred to play. As a result, last season Mourinho had Pereira playing as a holding midfielder at one point – clearly not his talent, and Solskjaer has also played him in a more defensive-than-natural midfield role for much of this season. As was the case during his loan spell with Valencia in 2017/18, under both managers, Pereira has also found himself pushed out onto both left and right wings at times as well.
Against Liverpool, Solskjaer’s use of wing backs allowed Pereira to play a role which was somewhere between a No.8 and one of the fluid front three I talked about in my previous article. The role played to his strengths – he was able to drop deep and distribute the ball and yet still be a main part of the attack, taking up intelligent positions down the right and middle, defending well when needed and keeping up Solskjaer’s trademark high press. What shone through for me was the work rate that he showed; he was just as impressive when Liverpool had the ball as when United were in possession. His stats for the game reflect his contribution: 100% tackle success rate, ten ball recoveries, three interceptions, two key passes and two shots.
After some underwhelming starts this season, against Liverpool he seemed to finally find his passing range as well, and also showed more of his delicious technical skills, with crafted little flicks, first touches and one-twos with his team-mates while under pressure. For me, Pereira was man of the match. I’m now pretty excited going forward that at age 23, we might finally have the Pereira we all hoped he would develop into. This is a player worthy of the first team and potentially a much better option than Jesse Lingard in this kind of role.
Fred’s story is very different but he too may have finally found his feet in a Manchester United shirt during the Liverpool game. On the back of some impressive performances for Shakhtar in the Champions League, most United fans were excited when he was signed in the Summer of 2018, but a splintered season that included some poor performances and clumsy challenges – one of which resulted in a penalty for Arsenal that brought United’s unbeaten run under Solskjaer to an end – left fans frustrated and doubtful as to whether Fred would make the grade at Old Trafford.
Fred did not help to endear himself to the fans – nor perhaps to the coaching staff – when he missed the 2019 pre-season tour to get married (a date he’d chosen to avoid the Copa America, where he thought he would be playing for Brazil, although he was not selected). When injuries to an already depleted midfield finally gave Fred a chance against Leicester, he still looked off the pace, and fans’ patience grew even thinner.
Coming into the Liverpool game, judging by fan forum conversations such as that on The Peoples Person, there was an overall sense that Fred had been another bad signing. A report from The Athletic broke that he was signed by Ed Woodward and Matt Judge against José Mourinho’s recommendation, and that the Portuguese had “gone along with” the signing because he feared it was the only option, and was better than nothing. In an interview with Sam Peoples last week, Andy Mitten of the Athletic claimed that those close to Fred were unsure he was good enough for the Premier League.
Yet, against all expectations, Fred put in a fantastic display against Liverpool. He played the kind of neat, tidy, pass-and-move energetic football we saw at Shakhtar. He was strong on the ball and defended well. He looked, at last, like the player we were excited to sign back in June 2018. “I’m learning day by day. I feel like I’m getting better. I have a big heart. I will play better” he said. And you kind of believe him.NI
One swallow doesn’t make a summer, but how about two? If Pereira and Fred can use their Liverpool performances as a springboard, there is more to come from both, and a squad that looked threadbare a week ago suddenly looks a whole lot better.