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We need to talk about Fred... the man who encapsulates the lack of intensity at Manchester United

We need to talk about Fred... the man who encapsulates the lack of intensity at Manchester United

12/12/2018 at 22:18Updated 13/12/2018 at 10:50

Jose Mourinho had seen enough. What had appeared the perfect setting for Fred to kick-start his Manchester United career had turned into yet another nightmare.

On such occasions the Brazilian shone for his former club Shakhtar Donetsk, excelling in games against Manchester City last season in the competition.

But this dead rubber in which Mourinho will have called on the midfielder to express himself turned out to be another sorry indication of a man bereft of confidence and losing his identity under the Portuguese.

Mourinho had said himself recently that the 25-year-old would become a more instrumental figure once the side had a more solid defensive platform, but against La Liga's least prolific strike force, he offered next to nothing.

Fred was brought to Old Trafford for no less than £52million in the summer, signing a five-year contract with the promise of bringing energy to the centre of the pitch, but on this evidence his career with United will be short-lived.

He was known as "the conductor" at Shakhtar but his ability to drive quick counter-attacks and transitions from defence into attack have seldom been seen.

Fred has looked lost in the Manchester United midfield

Fred has looked lost in the Manchester United midfieldGetty Images

At times, it was painful. Painful to understand his role, with Carlos Soler afforded so much time and space to blast Valencia into a first-half lead.

As an attacking force, he was also non-existent. As were United, failing to register a shot on goal in the entire of the opening period.

Valencia ought to have been out of sight by the interval with Sergio Romero denying Soler with another header before Michy Batshuayi missed the type of chance eight yards out which confirmed Chelsea's reasons for loaning him out for a second season.

There were others who struggled, of course. Phil Jones has now scored as many goals against United as he has for them in the Champions League, while despite his miss, Batshuayi was looking far more threatening than his compatriot Romelu Lukaku, who had another desperately disappointing night.

Fred was not alone in failing his audition on Wednesday

Fred was not alone in failing his audition on WednesdayGetty Images

Marcos Rojo looked like a man making only his second start of the season, and there was the yawning miss from Paul Pogba in the first-half when wrongly flagged for offside, but as news filtered through of Young Boys beating Juventus, the sense of missed opportunity was never more felt than by Fred.

In finishing second in the group, United could now face Real Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern Munich or even Paris Saint-Germain in the next round. It has been a tough season, but these European nights have offered United supporters an escape. They will now await the knockout stages with a sense of trepidation after Juventus had left the door wide open for them to snatch top spot.

It was clear that the United players were aware of the score in Bern, as Juan Mata grimaced after hooking his shot just wide in the dying moments with the score brought back to 2-1. Anything can still happen in February, but Fred may well have sought a temporary switch by the time the competition returns.

The player was spotted meeting his advisor Gilberto Silva for crisis talks after being dropped to the substitutes’ bench for the 4-1 win over Fulham last weekend. It was Silva who convinced him to move to the Premier League last summer, and the member of Arsenal’s Invincibles’ team appears to have taken the player’s woeful start in England as a personal affront.

A stone-faced Jose Mourinho watches on at the Mestalla

A stone-faced Jose Mourinho watches on at the MestallaGetty Images

Afforded the chance to impress against Valencia, he was part of a three-man midfield alongside Marouane Fellaini and Pogba that plainly didn't work, and the thought process behind Mourinho's eight changes to the side which beat Fulham was hard to fathom.

The number of alterations to his starting line-up domestically suggests he is no closer to knowing his first-choice XI, so a search for consistency wouldn't have gone amiss. As it was, the level of intensity and lack of cohesion only served to highlight the importance placed on the Premier League clash with Liverpool on Sunday. One player will almost certainly not be part of that occasion.

"It's just not happening for Fred is it. He's completely out of sorts," said BT Sport's co-commentator Martin Keown after another stray pass went straight out of play as he sought Ashley Young.

As it crashed into the hoardings, the Brazilian stood in the centre circle with his hands on his hips. “That just sums it up, doesn’t it?” the former Arsenal defender added. It was the 13th and final time the Brazilian lost possession for his side, having failed to produce a single key pass and won just 25 per cent of his duels.

It came as no surprise that the No 17 flickered on the fourth official’s electronic board after 57 minutes as Marcus Rashford entered the fray in Fred’s place. As he trudged off, he bore the face of a man who wanted the ground to swallow him up.

He rubbed his eyes as he gingerly walked past Mourinho. It was not to wrap him up in cotton wool for that clash against a side 16 points above them in the Premier League. It was to put the lad out of his misery. Fred was told by the United manager that he would be part of his ‘dream’ midfield upon his arrival, but that looks no closer to becoming a reality.