A collective groan could be heard all around the globe when Antony Taylor was asked by VAR officials, led by Andrew Marriner, to go and have a look at the screen during Manchester United’s Premier League game against Southampton last Sunday.
The culprit was Casemiro and fans knew instantly that he would be shown very little leeway. And their worst fears came to pass when Taylor brandished a red card to send the Brazilian off for the second time this season.
As an unhappy Erik ten Hag pointed out, the former Real Madrid superstar has never been shown a straight red before his move to the Red Devils and the officiating standards seemed to have very little consistency.
The fans and the manager are right to be worried about the ramifications of all this. United are set to face Fulham in the FA Cup quarterfinal with a chance to revisit Wembley in the offing.
They also have an away tie at top four rivals Newcastle and a two home tests against Brentford, who had beaten them 0-4 earlier on in the season, and a resurgent Everton.
United not only need to keep the chances of silverware alive but also will be aiming to preserve their top-four status with Tottenham and the Magpies breathing down their necks.
Unfortunately for the 20-time English league champions, their midfield bears a decimated look at this point in time. Both Christian Eriksen and Donny Van de Beek are out for the long-term while loan signing Marcel Sabitzer recently returned to fitness.
The Dutch boss even tried an innovative solution against the Saints with attacking midfielder Bruno Fernandes playing as the deep-lying playmaker. The Portugal international struggled in the deeper role as he lost possession 28 times – the most of any player in the match.
And that opens up the possibility of once again watching McFred strut their stuff. As the title suggests, it seems to almost be akin to a horror sequel people are too scared to watch.
Pundits, journalists and a large section of the fan-base consider the duo’s continued participation under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as the nadir in terms of the team’s history of top midfielders.
The flaws are there for all to see. Fred is a relentless runner and has the stamina and courage to harry the opposition into making mistakes.
These are great attributes when played alongside a defensive-minded player like Casemiro as seen during international games for Brazil. McTominay, on the other hand, can use his physicality to great effect and make lung-bursting runs when required.
But the main job of a midfielder is to pass well and both are rather weak when it comes to that aspect and that makes them a rather limited partnership even at the best of times.
Fred’s passing is at best erratic and he often disappears for a half of football before remerging as a completely changed player. McTominay’s receiving and passing leaves a lot to be desired at key junctures.
Both don’t do well as the deepest midfielder due to their body-shape and are better suited to the No 8 role. When playing both together, the team can lose its defensive shape and the ability to play in a fast vertical style, something that Ten Hag desires.
Even the former Ajax coach binned the duo after watching their unremarkable display against Brighton in the season opener where the Reds lost 1-2.
But the United boss needs both of them to be at the top of their game to navigate the upcoming challenges and there is hope that this time, even if for a brief moment, the duo can finally gain validation for their efforts.
Effort is one thing that the duo does not lack and that was evidenced when they had first sprung up as a partnership and cemented their status as the pairing of choice.
During the first COVID-19 affected season, when matches happened every three days behind closed doors, the Norwegian trusted the duo who fulfilled their role while the front players were on fire.
When given a specific task and for a short duration, they can certainly do the job, especially if the front players apart from Marcus Rashford hit some form.
This is also perfect in terms of timing. Fred has never enjoyed such a prolific campaign and has popped up with crucial goals and has generally excelled when under pressure.
Ten Hag certainly likes the midfield dynamo and has entrusted him with a specific set of tasks in big games against Manchester City, Tottenham and Barcelona.
As for the Scot, not too long ago, he had even managed to keep Casemiro out of the team for an extended period of time and that should give him the confidence of being able to do it again if needed.
His cameo against Southampton was another reminder of his talents as he was easily one of the best players on the pitch in a defensive capacity and Ten Hag certainly admires his ability to run with the ball from the base of the midfield.
There is also the possibility of both being moved on in the summer and that could prove to be a huge incentive for both players to give it their all now that the situation has demanded this.
Incisive passing might be missing for a few games, but Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw are able to pass out extremely impressively from the back and their ability to find passing angles should also help the duo.
There is far more cohesiveness now under Ten Hag than there ever was under Solskjaer, with all almost all the front players ready to help out with the dirty work.
If the momentum shifts, Sabitzer can always come in and help out with the passing. If indeed Ten Hag needs to call upon the duo, fans will do well to remember that the partnership has worked in the past and Ten Hag certainly has the management nous to make it work even if for a short period.
Not a midfield to win titles, but for now, ‘McFred’ is once again here to do the job!
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