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Is Manchester United star Fred the Big six’s worst defensive midfielder?

by Scott Eckersley

Question marks about the quality of Manchester United’s midfield options have been rumbling on for much of the past few seasons.

Those questions have only become louder during the current campaign, with Fred and Scott McTominay finding themselves under an unforgiving spotlight.

One of the main criticisms of the ‘McFred’ double pivot has been the lack of protection the two players – even in tandem – bring to the defence.

It’s proving to be a conundrum for Reds’ boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as neither player appears to be chosen for their attacking prowess.

In theory, their selection should ensure the bare minimum of a solid backbone, a shield against opponents who instead seem increasingly aware of the Reds’ soft underbelly.

Fred’s defensive game has been under increased scrutiny following his part in the disappointing home draw with Everton at the weekend.

With the Red Devils leading 1-0, the Brazilian was unable to stop Demarai Gray’s run which, in turn, led to Andros Townsend’s equaliser.

WhoScored has compiled a list of stats showing ‘dribbled past per 90 minutes’ for defensive midfielders among the traditional ‘Big 6’ – and it makes for pretty grim reading:

Times dribbled past per 90 of DMs of the Premier League’s big-six this season:

Man Utd – Fred (3)
Arsenal – Thomas Partey (2.5)
Spurs – Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg (1.9)
Liverpool – Fabinho (1.7)
Chelsea – N’Golo Kante (1.1)
Man City – Rodri (0.6)

It’s probably worth pointing out that Fred isn’t really regarded as a pure DM, he’s more of a box-to-box disruptor than a genuine specialist.

In fact, it’s the lack of a true No.6 that is most often touted as the reason behind Solskjaer’s stubborn persistence with ‘McFred‘.

Inadequate as it might seem to some, those two together are trusted to do the job of a single specialist, a la Nemanja Matic.

Even so, there are other box-to-box midfielders on the list – the likes of N’golo Kante and Pierre Emile-Hojberg to name but two – and Fred’s stats still look poor in comparison.

Although McTominay is omitted, similar criticisms have been levelled at the 24-year-old, as the Scot seems more comfortable breaking from midfield than holding the fort.

The numbers appear to substantiate a feeling among United fans that the current engine room remains Solskjaer’s most pressing problem.

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