EPL

'I don't understand the criticism of Fred' – Fabinho defends under-fire Man Utd midfielder

By Sports Desk August 21, 2022

Liverpool midfielder Fabinho believes his Brazil team-mate Fred has come in for an unfair share of heavy criticism amid Manchester United's recent struggles.

The Red Devils are second bottom of the embryonic Premier League table after losing their opening two matches.

Having been outplayed in a 2-1 home loss to Brighton and Hove Albion, United were thrashed 4-0 at Brentford on a chastening day for new boss Erik ten Hag.

Fred has long come in for criticism from United fans and that has only increased after the club's dismal start to the season.

He and Fabinho are likely to come up against each other when Liverpool visit Old Trafford on Monday, and Fabinho thinks his compatriot deserves more respect from United supporters.

"Sometimes I don't really understand the criticism of Fred because he is a regular player, he always plays good football," Fabinho said in the Telegraph.

"In general Manchester United have not been successful in the last seasons so you try to find a solution or you try to put the fault on some of the players and sometimes I think Fred is that player.

"But he is a good player. In the national team, he is always a starter, he always plays good and, yes, sometimes the player needs a little bit more confidence to play good.

"Last season he played really good football, maybe he was one of the best United players. This season United didn't start really good but I hope Fred will play good and United will stay playing like this."

Fred will soon be joined at United by another Brazil international after the Red Devils announced on Friday they had agreed a deal with Real Madrid for the transfer of Casemiro.

Fabinho played with Casemiro for Madrid's second team 10 years ago and believes the 30-year-old is well equipped to deal with the demands of English football.

"Of course, he will be a good signing," Fabinho said. "Casemiro is a smart guy, he is a good player, he is strong, he is good in the air, so it will not be hard for him to adapt to the Premier League."

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    From Gerd Muller to Marco van Basten, Alan Shearer to Fernando Torres, some of the greatest strikers to have played the game have had the honour of winning the Golden Boot at a European Championship.

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    Where else to start but with Mbappe? 

    The France captain is again among the favourites to top the goalscoring charts, having netted eight times to win the Golden Boot as Les Bleus came up just short at the 2022 World Cup.

    While Mbappe has 12 goals in 14 World Cup matches and looks destined to obliterate Miroslav Klose's record of 16, he failed to score at his only previous Euros, even missing the decisive kick as France went out to Switzerland on penalties three years ago. 

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    However, few would predict a repeat following a season in which Mbappe scored 44 times in 47 games, a tally only matched by Kane among players from Europe's top five leagues. 

    Mbappe also scored nine times in eight Euro 2024 qualifiers, though the depth of attacking talent available to Didier Deschamps – and the likelihood of Mbappe playing from the left flank – could mean they are slightly less reliant on one star than other nations. 

    France had the largest spread of goalscorers of any side during qualifying, with 14 different players scoring at least once for them, excluding own goals. 

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    Their previous 33 matches at the Euros have produced an average of 2.79 goals per game (42 for, 50 against), the highest ratio among the 12 teams to have played at least 20 games.

    Cristiano Ronaldo

    Portugal's Euro 2020 campaign ended in last-16 heartache against Belgium, but in just four games, Ronaldo did enough to claim the Golden Boot with five goals and one assist, edging out Patrik Schick.

    In many ways, this is Ronaldo's competition. He holds the tournament records for most games (25), most goals (14), joint-most assists on record (six – starting in 1972) and most editions with at least one goal (five).

    Since 1972, Ronaldo has recorded twice as many goal involvements as any other player at the Euros (20 – 14 goals, six assists), with Michel Platini a distant second (10, nine goals, one assist).

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    Questions persist regarding Ronaldo's ability to fit into a coherent off-the-ball structure, but if chances fall his way, he is likely to take them. 

    He should not suffer from a lack of service. Of the top 10 players in Europe's top five leagues for open-play chances created in 2023-24 (all competitions), three were Portuguese – Bruno Fernandes (first, 111), Bernardo Silva (eighth, 84) and Rafael Leao (joint-10th, 82).

    Romelu Lukaku

    Lukaku became Belgium's all-time leading goalscorer all the way back in 2018 and now has 85 goals in 115 senior international appearances. 

    Eleven of those strikes have come at major tournaments (World Cup/Euros), though he struggled enormously in Qatar two years ago and has only netted twice in knockout games for his country.

    However, he should not be discounted from the Golden Boot race at this year's tournament.

    Lukaku scored an astonishing 14 goals in eight Euro 2024 qualifiers, setting a new record for a single qualification campaign. He scored every 39 minutes on average and converted almost half of his shots (29), accounting for 63.6 per cent of total goals scored by Domenico Tedesco's men (22).

    With Slovakia, Romania and Ukraine awaiting Belgium in Group E and a third-place finisher next up if they top their pool, Lukaku should be confident of a strong start.

    Like Ronaldo, he will also be serviced by some of the continent's best creators.

    Since the start of the 2014 World Cup, Kevin De Bruyne's nine assists at major tournaments (five at the Euros, four at World Cups) are the most of any European player, and he led all Premier League players for expected assists (0.42 xA) and chances created (3.37) per 90 minutes in 2023-24.

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    Alvaro Morata

    Euro 2020 will live long in the memory of Atletico Madrid striker Morata, but perhaps not for the right reasons.

    He netted three times as Spain made the last four, but he was also criticised after missing more big chances (six) than any other player at the tournament. To make matters worse, it was his unsuccessful penalty which allowed Italy to beat La Roja in a semi-final shoot-out.

    However, Morata does have a decent pedigree at the Euros, ranking joint-fifth in the competition's all-time goalscoring charts, his six strikes equalling the likes of Patrick Kluivert, Wayne Rooney, Thierry Henry and Zlatan Ibrahimovic.

    Meanwhile, Joselu – Morata's understudy for this tournament – was the only Spain player to match his four goals in qualifying.

    Luis de la Fuente's approach does not differ greatly from that of Luis Enrique, so Spain will be patient in their bid to create chances.

    La Roja's last 50 goals at the Euros have all been scored from inside the box, their last long-range strike coming via Raul against Slovenia in 2000.

    Morata scored 15 goals in 27 LaLiga matches in 2023-24, making it his joint-most prolific campaign in one of Europe's top five leagues (he also netted 15 times for Real Madrid in 2016-17). 

    THE OUTSIDERS

    Florian Wirtz

    The likes of Kai Havertz and Niclas Fullkrug are battling it out to lead the line for Germany, but perhaps their main goal threat will come from deep if Julian Nagelsmann implements a fluid system.

    Bayer Leverkusen star Wirtz was crowned Bundesliga Player of the Year after scoring 11 goals and providing 11 assists throughout their unbeaten campaign, also netting four times on their run to the Europa League final.

    Gianluca Scamacca

    Leverkusen's European campaign ended in heartbreaking fashion against Atalanta in Dublin. While Ademola Lookman did the damage in the final, Scamacca also shone for La Dea and has a great chance of starting at the Euros, given Italy's lack of true striking options.

    Scamacca only has one goal in 16 senior appearances for Italy, but if Luciano Spalletti picks his team on form, the former West Ham striker should make it in. He scored 19 goals in all competitions in 2023-24, outperforming his xG total of 11.2 by a huge differential of 7.8.  

    Rasmus Hojlund

    Might a former Atalanta forward also find himself in contention? Hojlund endured an up-and-down debut season with Manchester United, but he ended it on a high by scoring in his last two Premier League games before helping them triumph in the FA Cup final.

    Hojlund top-scored for Denmark with seven goals in qualifying, also leading his team-mates for shots (23), shots on target (13) and xG (5.2). If Denmark are to push England close in Group C, they will need their number nine in top form.

    What does history tell us? 

    We are highly unlikely to see anyone match Platini's incredible nine-goal haul from Euro 1984, but looking at recent Golden Boot winners does allow us to draw a few conclusions about what is needed to come out on top. 

    Since the Euros expanded to 16 teams for 1996, the fewest goals needed to win the Golden Boot was three, with Torres taking the honours in 2012, after his team-mate David Villa did so with four in 2008.

    Antoine Griezmann's six goals in 2016 is the closest any player has ever come to Platini's haul, while four of the last seven editions have seen the leading scorer finish on five goals. 

    Griezmann and Platini, alongside Shearer in 1996, are also the only standalone winners to claim the award while representing the host nation.

    It is also interesting to note that team success does not necessarily translate to individual honours. 

    Spain duo Villa and Torres are the only players to claim the Golden Boot as tournament winners since 1992 (when Denmark's Henrik Larsen shared it with three other players).

    A deep run of sorts is usually required, though. Ronaldo won the Euro 2020 Golden Boot despite Portugal exiting in the last 16, but the previous four standalone winners all played for teams who reached the semi-finals as a minimum.

    As you might have guessed, having the best goalscorer in the competition helps, but it is no guarantee of glory.

    Few England fans will be consoled by a Kane Golden Boot if the Three Lions fall short.   

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