Manchester United are "definitely" hunting Arsenal's Premier League record streak of unbeaten away matches, according to Fred.

The 3-1 win at Tottenham earlier this month moved United onto 23 games on the road without defeat.

That put Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men level with the Gunners' run from 2001-02, but still five games short of overtaking the north London club's spell from 2003-04.

On Sunday the Red Devils will put their proud record on the line again with a trip to rivals Leeds United, a side they beat 6-2 at Old Trafford in December.

Asked if setting a new landmark was on United's radar, Fred told the club's official website: "Definitely, we look at the numbers that are so important in football these days.

"We'll aim to do our best in the games... we always do that anyway, give our all with one game coming after another.

"We're on a great run of form away from home. We've been winning, it's a great run, I hope we can keep up this winning run away from home until the end of the season.

"I also hope we can improve our home form, we've already improved a lot since the start of the season. I think we can continue on this run and finish the season really well."

The December meeting between the sides in Manchester was their first in the league for over 16 years, but for Leeds it swiftly turned into a nightmare as Scott McTominay became the first player in Premier League history to score twice in the first three minutes of a match.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as Leeds went on to concede four goals in the first half of a Premier League fixture for the first time, Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof increasing the lead before Liam Cooper pulled one back just before the break.

Although it was the first occasion a Marcelo Bielsa team had conceded six goals in a game since 1992 and the first time United had scored so many since an 8-2 win over Arsenal in August 2011, United still allowed Leeds 17 attempts.

Sunday's clash will be United's first league visit to Elland Road since October 2003, when the visitors snatched a 1-0 win – they have not won successive league games at Leeds since 1976.

Fred does not believe Manchester United were even at their best in December's remarkable 6-2 thrashing of Leeds United as he fired a warning ahead of a rematch of what he calls an "English football Clasico".

United and Leeds were once party to one of the fiercest rivalries in British football, but it took a backseat to the Red Devils' other major matches after the Yorkshire club were relegated from the Premier League in 2004.

The December meeting at Old Trafford was their first in the league for over 16 years, but for Leeds it swiftly turned into a nightmare as Scott McTominay became the first player in Premier League history to score twice in the first three minutes of a match.

That was just the tip of the iceberg, however, as Leeds went on to concede four goals in the first half of a Premier League fixture for the first time, Bruno Fernandes and Victor Lindelof increasing the lead before Liam Cooper pulled one back.

Fernandes converted a penalty in the second half shortly after Daniel James netted, with Stuart Dallas' goal at the other end scant consolation.

Although it was the first occasion a Marcelo Bielsa team had conceded six goals in a game since 1992 and the first time United had scored so many since an 8-2 win over Arsenal in August 2011, United still allowed Leeds 17 attempts.

"I don't know if it was our best performance of the season, [but] 6-2 was a great result of course," Fred told United's official website. "I think we've had better performances this season.

"Scott's two goals very early on helped us to control the game, but they're very difficult opponents playing with such high intensity, they're very strong and always looking to attack.

"We're prepared for this, we know how they play and we'll aim to be at our very best to get the win."

Ordinarily United would be entitled to a rather frosty reception at Elland Road, though the absence of fans amid the coronavirus pandemic means they will avoid the worst of it.

Fred is certainly familiar with such occasions as a veteran of several 'Grenal' matches between Gremio and Internacional, a match that in December was ranked as the eighth biggest derby in world football.

"Definitely, it's an English football Clasico," he said of fixtures between United and Leeds. "We get a feel for this anticipation from social media.

"The fans are excited about this game, as are we of course. We haven't had a midweek game this week, so the anticipation for the next game increases and it's a derby game against a massive rival.

"It'll be a really tough game but we'll be preparing well for it this week."

Sunday's clash will be United's first visit to Elland Road since October 2003, a 1-0 win – they have not won successive league games at Leeds since 1976.

Nevertheless, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men are unbeaten away from home in the top flight for over a year, a run consisting of 23 games.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer applauded Fred for building a career for himself at Manchester United after a rocky start, with the midfielder preparing to make his 100th appearance for the club.

Fred joined United in 2018 for a reported £52million from Shakhtar Donetsk, the deal seen as a significant coup for the Red Devils after he had been heavily linked with bitter rivals Manchester City. 

Pep Guardiola was said to have seen Fred as the ideal long-term replacement for Fernandinho, but United fans were left underwhelmed by what they saw in his first season at Old Trafford, making just 17 Premier League appearances. 

But he showed signs of improvement last season and has become one of Solskjaer's go-to players for the biggest matches, highlighting the manager's trust. 

In 2019-20, Fred improved virtually across the board statistically, averaging more passes (66.4 to 69.5), interceptions (1.4 to 1.6) and touches (85.3 to 91.1) per game than he had in his first season. 

He has dropped off in some of those areas this term, but his increase in tackle attempts (3.2 from 2.5) and interceptions (at 1.9 this season) per game, coupled with the fact he is losing possession less often (11.5 occasions, down from 14.5 per 90 minutes) suggests he has become more comfortable with his defensive role and the speed of the English game. 

His 3.2 tackles attempted per 90 minutes is the seventh-most of all Premier League players to have featured at least 10 times this term, and Solskjaer has no doubt where the praise should lie. 

"He's really done well. I've enjoyed working with him these past couple of seasons," Solskjaer told reporters ahead of Sunday's trip to West Brom. 

"When I came in, he was a boy who was struggling a little bit. I got numerous questions about Fred in press conferences early on. As I said then, players coming into a new country, it takes time to settle - and it took some time for Fred to settle. 

"He has settled now, he's grown in confidence. There's less time in the Premier League than what he was used to. He's quickened up his game, he's not getting caught on the ball.

"I'm not going to take any credit for that, of course. It's the coaches - I think Michael Carrick and Kieran [McKenna], they've been brilliant with him, but it's Fred himself who has had the hunger and humility to learn and want to improve, stick at it and keep working. 

"There are not a lot of people who can say they've played 100 games for Manchester United. Hopefully there will be many more [games] to come - and hopefully he will score from outside the box soon, but I'm not sure it’s going to be with his right [foot]! I've tried to tell him." 

With Solskjaer confirming Paul Pogba remains sidelined with a thigh injury, Fred looks likely to play again this weekend and his most-likely partner behind Bruno Fernandes will be another United midfielder who has attracted praise this season. 

Scott McTominay scored the extra-time winner as United beat West Ham 1-0 on Tuesday to book their place in the FA Cup quarter-finals, taking the Scotland international's tally for the season to seven goals. 

Only Bruno Fernandes (18) and Marcus Rashford (16) have more than McTominay across all competitions in 2020-21, with Anthony Martial and Edinson Cavani also on seven each, and Solskjaer is urging the midfielder to reach double figures. 

"Of course, to add goals from midfield is vital," Solskjaer continued. "Last season our three forwards were brilliant and really efficient and scored goals - 60 odd - and Bruno came in and scored goals. 

"We need more goals from midfield and Scott does have that ability to go box-to-box. He's a threat inside the box and he used to be a striker. 

"I think for us to move up the league and be successful in the cups, we need our forwards to keep on firing - getting more goals - and I wouldn't mind some midfielders adding a few.

"If Scott can get into double figures then that would be a very good season for a so-called defensive midfielder."

During Fred's early months in the Premier League, it would be fair to say many Manchester City fans will have felt their team had dodged a bullet.

Prior to his move to the red side of Manchester, speculation was rife that Pep Guardiola had identified Fred – at Shakhtar Donetsk back then – as a long-term replacement for Fernandinho in midfield.

Fred had made a reputation for himself as an effective box-to-box midfielder who could have an impact on the ball as well as off it.

But it was difficult to see what possessed Manchester United to pip City to his reported £55million signing during the 2018-19 season, as he struggled with the tempo of the game and didn't appear to offer anything particularly outstanding to any part of the United unit.

However, as the past year or so – especially this season – highlights, Fred has become one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's most-trusted individuals.

As United welcome City to Old Trafford in Wednesday's EFL Cup semi-final, Fred has another chance to show why that is the case.

MR DEPENDABLE?

Fred may have only started 10 of United's 16 Premier League games this term, but a telling pattern emerges when you look at which matches they were.

Among those games, he was in Solskjaer's line-up for outings against Chelsea, Arsenal, Everton, Southampton, City, Leeds United, Leicester City and Aston Villa.

All of those are, of course, either 'big six' rivals or teams pushing to be in the upper echelons of the Premier League this term. He was brought on at half-time in the 6-1 demolition by Tottenham, and while he hardly held Spurs at bay, they were at the very least less rampant in the second half.

It cannot be a coincidence that these are the type of matches Fred has been used in most often, with Solskjaer clearly valuing the midfielder's off-the-ball qualities as United regularly look to absorb pressure and spring counter-attacks.

That will likely be the tactic again as United host EFL Cup holders City in Wednesday's semi-final, a one-legged repeat of last season's two-match tie in the same round.

A year on from the 2019-20 first leg, Solskjaer will be hoping for a rather different outcome, as City – opting to go with a false nine – overran United's midfield and battered them at Old Trafford that day, deservedly winning 3-1.

There will likely be just four players from the United starting XI of the game a year ago who line up on Wednesday, with Fred one of them. The upheaval in the squad has been significant, but it's telling that the Brazilian is one of those still playing a role, and an important one at that.

He may have let himself down again with a red card against Paris Saint-Germain, but it seems Solskjaer accepted responsibility over that incident.

FRED THE FACILITATOR

It seems highly unlikely Fred will ever be in the running for any of the Premier League's end-of-season individual awards – he doesn't score or create enough, and you cannot say his influence is anything like that of N'Golo Kante in the title-winning Leicester City side.

But, one player who surely will be a candidate for individual gongs is Bruno Fernandes, and players like him need colleagues like Fred in order to thrive.

The Brazil international is well-rounded and has the technical ability to lend support in offensive situations, such as his neat interchanges with Paul Pogba against Aston Villa last time out.

But Fred is undoubtedly at his most effective when his side are not in possession, with his 49 tackles more than any other United or City midfielder in all competitions this term.

It's a similar story with his interceptions count. Fred has made 30 in 2020-21, five more than Rodrigo, who ranks second among the United and City engine room players. That is despite Fred despite playing over 400 minutes less than City's Spain international. Of course, City generally have more of the ball than United, but it still highlights Fred's awareness.

Critics might point out his 12 key passes is a rather meagre total, but with Bruno Fernandes (69) creating chances with such frequency, one could argue it doesn't matter – after all, Fred isn't being put in the team to be a creator.

Curiously, in the league since January 1 last year, United actually have a worse win percentage (50) with Fred in the starting XI than they do without him (71.4), though this is clearly skewed by the fact he is often reserved for games against better opposition.

But what is notable from this time period is United concede fewer shots - 10.3 per game - on average when Fred starts. That goes up to 12.1 shots per 90 minutes when he's not in the first XI – while the team's own shots count increases from 12.4 to 15 each game with the Internacional youth product in the side.

Opta's advanced passing data also reflects favourably on Fred, particularly with respect to starting three open-play sequences that ended in a goal, which is the joint second highest in the Premier League this term.

He has also initiated four open-play passing sequences that led to a shot, which only Luke Shaw, Harry Maguire and Fernandes can better in the Red Devils' squad.

UNNOTICED, UNDER-APPRECIATED, BUT NOT USELESS

Fred is perhaps the sort of player many would consider dispensable, and maybe he is in certain matches. Rarely does he stand out as an individual, certainly not to the extent of say Fernandes and Marcus Rashford, and much of his work can go unnoticed.

But many of us inadvertently analyse players in isolation and by their individual numbers, rather than how they fit into the collective. Sure, Fred doesn't create many chances, but what he offers United off the ball is seemingly vital for Solskjaer.

Fred may not be the player a lot of United fans expected two and a half years ago, but he has certainly proven himself to be no dud.

Manchester United have left it late again, but they are finally adding more new faces to the squad in this transfer window in the form of Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles.

Cavani, who has been a free agent since leaving Paris Saint-Germain in June, is reportedly joining the Red Devils on a one-year contract with the option of a second, while Telles arrives from Porto in a deal worth in the region of £15.4million (€17m).

Cavani became PSG's record goalscorer in his seven years in France, scoring 200 times in all competitions to help them to win 19 trophies.

He certainly has the pedigree to be a strong addition to the United ranks, but they have endured mixed fortunes in the past when it comes to South American signings.

Here are their previous 18, ranked from worst to best...

18. Rodrigo Possebon (2008-10)

Possebon squeaks onto this list as a Brazil-born player, even though he represented Italy at youth level.

Signed by United from Internacional in 2008, he mustered three league appearances before a fruitless loan to Braga and then a return to Brazil. He last played for Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam.

 

17. Radamel Falcao (2014-15)

Falcao, the man who tore through defences for fun with Porto, Atletico Madrid and Monaco, looked as though he had practically forgotten how to play football when he pulled on the red shirt at United, even if he did manage four goals in 26 Premier League appearances.

Just to rub it in, he returned to Monaco in 2016 and promptly became brilliant again. He's now at Galatasaray.

16. Kleberson (2003-05)

A World Cup winner snapped up for approximately £6.5million - what could possibly go wrong? Pretty much everything, it turns out.

Kleberson played 20 league games between 2003 and 2005 before being shipped out to Besiktas.

 

15. Guillermo Varela (2013-17)

Becoming David Moyes' first signing was probably never going to work out for the best.

Varela spent four years at United, two of which saw him leave on loan, before he went to Penarol to get his career back up and running. He now plays for Copenhagen and started in the 1-0 loss to his old club in last season's Europa League quarter-final.

 

14. Alexis Sanchez (2018-19)

He had some moments - the winner in the comeback against Newcastle United, the FA Cup strike against old club Arsenal - but they did not exactly justify the reported basic wage of £300,000 per week.

Sanchez has gone some way towards rekindling his career alongside good friend Romelu Lukaku at Inter - another player who could not convince Ole Gunnar Solskjaer of his importance.

 

13. Angel Di Maria (2014-15)

His audacious lob against Leicester City showed the sort of quality he could offer United as a then-British record signing (£60m, according to reports). Sadly, in that same game, United collapsed to lose 5-3 and Louis van Gaal seemed to lose all faith in attacking football of any kind.

Di Maria never seemed to gel with Van Gaal, nor did he ever settle in Manchester, and he was sold to Paris Saint-Germain for a loss within a year. He has, of course, been exceptional in France.

 

12. Andreas Pereira (2011-)

A Brazil international born in Belgium, Pereira had a long wait to break into United's first team on a regular basis. Many supporters are still wondering when he will justify the patience.

The midfielder has talent, for sure, but whether he has enough to become a mainstay over the coming years remains to be seen. He was given plenty of opportunities to impress last season but failed to do so consistently, and a loan move to Lazio for 2020-21 was considered the best for all parties.

 

11. Juan Sebastian Veron (2001-03)

Veron is another expensive Argentina star who scored a memorable goal in a 5-3 game for United - on that occasion, it was when they came from 3-0 down to beat Tottenham at White Hart Lane.

Veron was a good example of the right player signed at the wrong time. United still had great quality in midfield in 2001, when Veron joined from Lazio; within a couple of years, that strength in depth had evaporated, and the world's most right-footed footballer would have been a welcome addition.

 

10. Anderson (2007-15)

A combative, hard-working presence in the United midfield, Anderson seemed to have a peculiar habit of kicking the ball as hard as possible regardless of whether he was shooting from 35 yards out or passing to a team-mate behind him.

He certainly got a huge medal haul – seven major trophies in eight years, no less – but his crowning achievement at Old Trafford was having a song to the tune of Black Lace's 1984 hit 'Agadoo'. And, yes, he was better than Kleberson.

 

9. Fred (2018-)

Like Sanchez, Fred was said to be a man coveted by Manchester City only for United and Jose Mourinho to get in the way. Like Sanchez, the £47m midfielder proved initially to be a redundant presence in the squad, apparently not valued by Solskjaer.

Unlike Sanchez, Fred has managed to prove his worth to the manager and was arguably their most consistent midfielder in 2019-20. His place in the first XI is far from guaranteed, though, after Donny van de Beek's arrival from Ajax.

 

8. Marcos Rojo (2014-)

Injuries, including serious knee damage, and a proclivity for a reckless challenge or two have dogged Rojo's past couple of seasons and may leave many wondering why he is so high in this list.

Well, it's easy to forget the important part he played in Mourinho's first season, when United won the EFL Cup and Europa League. Such was his determination to run through the proverbial brick wall for his boss, he asked for a banana to give him an energy boost while playing in the last-16 win over Rostov.

 

7. Fabio (2008-14)

Whether or not he really was the most talented of the Da Silva twins, as was claimed, Fabio was certainly not the most effective in his Old Trafford career, although he won plenty of silverware.

Although a full-back by trade, Fabio made two rather decisive appearances in midfield for United. One was in a 2-0 FA Cup victory over Arsenal, when Alex Ferguson somehow pulled off a win with Fabio, Rafael, Darron Gibson and John O'Shea as the central four; the other was during a 3-2 home defeat to Blackburn Rovers on New Year's Eve in 2011, a match that convinced Paul Pogba he had no immediate future at the club.

 

6. Diego Forlan (2002-04)

Forlan's best days were after he left Old Trafford, when he would become a fine forward for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid. He retired last year to a general hum of respect and admiration.

United fans will always remember him for a winning double against Liverpool in 2002, but his talent was just a little too raw for him to establish himself in the north west permanently. Still, he won the Premier League and FA Cup and cost under £7m.

 

5. Rafael (2008-15)

A popular figure like his brother, Rafael simply offered more quality and consistency in the United team, his best season coming as first-choice right-back when they last won the league in 2012-13.

Van Gaal was not a big fan, so he was sold to Lyon in 2015. Five good years in France came and went and he now plays for Istanbul Basaksehir, meaning he will get an Old Trafford reunion in this season's Champions League group stages.

4. Gabriel Heinze (2004-07)

Although he was a touch heavy-handed with challenges at times - he really did like to lead with his elbows when jumping for headers - Heinze was an excellent player for United despite his second season being ruined by a major knee problem.

In fact, he would likely have stayed for longer had his place not been usurped by Patrice Evra, who was signed as cover following that injury and went on to become one of the club's finest full-backs in years.

 

3. Sergio Romero (2015-)

Okay, he has not played as often as others on this list, but Romero has essentially established himself as the most accomplished back-up goalkeeper in the world at United.

Hugely dependable when called upon, he was also first choice in the successful Europa League campaign of 2016-17 and kept a clean sheet in the final against Ajax. He has barely put a foot wrong.

 

2. Antonio Valencia (2009-19)

Some fans lost patience with him in his final few months, when he seemed to be phased out of the squad by Solskjaer with little explanation, but Valencia had a commendable career at United after joining from Wigan Athletic in 2009.

His decade at Old Trafford yielded two Premier Leagues, two EFL Cups, an FA Cup and a Europa League, as he marauded down the right flank as a wide midfielder and later as a first-rate converted full-back. He was the club's Players' Player of the Year twice, in 2011-12 (as a winger) and 2016-17 (as a defender), and served as club captain.

1. Carlos Tevez (2007-09)

He's not exactly the most popular man in the red half of Manchester given his move to City in 2009, but even the angriest of Red Devils cannot deny Tevez's impact.

He spearheaded an attack containing Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo - one of the most fearsome United have ever had - and led Ferguson's side to two Premier Leagues, an EFL Cup, a Club World Cup and the Champions League in just two years.

Kalidou Koulibaly has been a man in demand for quite some time.

Clubs in Europe have reportedly queued up to sign the Napoli centre-back.

Koulibaly could finally get his move, with a Premier League giant reportedly working on a deal.

 

TOP STORY – CITY FRONTRUNNERS FOR KOULIBALY

Manchester City are favourites to prise Kalidou Koulibaly from Napoli, according to Duncan Castles of the Sunday Times.

Koulibaly has long been linked with a Napoli exit – City, Liverpool, Manchester United, Tottenham, Real Madrid and Barcelona all reported admirers.

But it seems the star defender is more likely to join Pep Guardiola's City than Premier League leaders Liverpool.

 

ROUND-UP

Edinson Cavani is among the alternatives to Inter's Lautaro Martinez for Barcelona, says Sky Sport Italia. Barca want to sign Martinez but the LaLiga champions are struggling to meet Inter's demands. Now Cavani, who will not sign a new contract with Paris Saint-Germain and is a free agent, could end up at Camp Nou. The Uruguayan forward has also been linked to Inter and Atletico Madrid. Arsenal's Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is also on the list, though Juventus are reportedly eyeing the disgruntled Gabon international.

Juve and Barca have reached an agreement over a swap deal involving Arthur and Miralem Pjanic, reports Goal. Arthur had been reluctant to leave Barca for Juve but the Spanish giants could receive a fee of €70million.

Liverpool are frontrunners to sign Bayern Munich star Thiago Alcantara, says Bild. The Spanish midfielder had been set to extend his contract but he has apparently backed out of a new deal.

Borussia Dortmund may keep Jadon Sancho after all. The England international has been tipped to join United at the end of the season. Unless Dortmund receive £117m (€130m), they will continue with Sancho, reports Sport Bild, which also claims the Bundesliga club could offer a bumper new deal.

- Gianluca Di Marzio says Lazio and Inter are battling over the signing of Hellas Verona defender Marash Kumbulla. Inter have reportedly made a €25milion offer for Kumbulla, who has also been linked to Juve.

Chelsea and Real Madrid are going head-to-head for Bayer Leverkusen's Kai Havertz, claims WinSports. Chelsea are believed to have submitted an offer worth £8m (€8.8m) more than Madrid's bid.

Fred is ready to discuss a new long-term contract with United, the Sun reports. After a difficult start to life at Old Trafford, the Brazilian has established himself as a key member of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side.

- According to Le10 Sport, Madrid and Barca are interested in Arsenal midfielder Matteo Guendouzi.

For the first time in a while, there is a genuine and understandable enthusiasm around Manchester United's midfield options.

Bruno Fernandes settled exceptionally quickly following his January move from Sporting CP, Fred has established himself in the team and produced a string of positive performances, Scott McTominay continues to improve and speculation relating to Paul Pogba has gone quiet.

Now there is reportedly increasing confidence of being able to sign Ajax star Donny van de Beek, a key figure in the Dutch side's march to the Champions League semi-finals last year.

The Netherlands international had been heavily linked with Real Madrid, with claims a deal had already been agreed between the club and player, but those reports have since cooled.

There's little doubt Van de Beek would be a fine addition at Old Trafford, but would the fans' ideal midfield trio comprising of Pogba, Fernandes and the 23-year-old be too unbalanced?

More responsibility, greater productivity

One of Van de Beek's biggest strengths is his well-rounded style of play, and it is especially relevant when looking at the roles he has played across the past two seasons.

Last term he was regularly deployed in an attack-minded position ahead of Frenkie de Jong, whereas in 2019-20 he was largely used in a deeper role, helping to fill the void left by his international colleague's departure to Barcelona.

Therefore, if we accept Pogba and Fernandes would automatically fill the first two midfield spots at United, it is likely Van de Beek would be asked to play a deep-lying role if he was to move to Old Trafford.

This certainly did not negatively impact his influence for Ajax in 2019-20, however, even with respect to his attacking output.

Across all competitions, he averaged more touches of the ball (53.5 to 46.7) per game this season, while his touches in the opposition's penalty area also increased from 5.9 to 6.9.

The fact Van de Beek saw more of the ball reflects in his higher passing frequency (up to 38.8 per match from 33.1), and the accuracy of that distribution was 81 per cent, having been at 79 last term.

Understandably he did not average as many shots per game (down from 2.1 to 1.9), but his chance creation increased to 1.8 from 1.6 in 2018-19.

While these were mostly slight changes, it does highlight a suitability for the position – the fact his attacking productivity generally increased, even from a deeper role, speaks volumes for his influence, particularly given Ajax were widely accepted to have been less impressive collectively this term.

The best option for a defensive role?

From a defensive perspective, there were not major changes to Van de Beek's contributions in 2019-20. He still averaged five recoveries, one interception and two tackles per game, while his participation in duels (from 8.0 to 8.4) and duels won (from 4.2 to 4.4) were up slightly in all competitions.

But it is worth remembering Ajax were generally a dominant force in matches – they spent more time with the ball than without it, and Van de Beek's influence was most felt when they were on the attack.

Fred and Nemanja Matic – who also enjoyed something of a resurgence before the season's suspension – would likely be those most threatened by Van de Beek's arrival.

But both can claim a better frequency of interceptions, with Matic averaging 1.2 per Premier League game and Fred 1.4, while they also complete more passes per match – 46 and 53, respectively.

And although Van de Beek's all-action approach serves him well, Matic and Fred both out-do him with respect to average duels; the Serbian is involved in 10 per top-flight game, the Brazilian 12.

While neither boast Van de Beek's effectiveness in attack, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could argue that is not their job if occupying a deep position.

A replacement for Pogba?

While Van de Beek's game was not hurt by operating in a deeper role this term, he is clearly at his most useful when in possession, and he has also been praised for his clinical nature in front of goal.

After all, in the Eredivisie this season his expected goals (xG) was 5.5 but he scored eight times. Similarly, in the Champions League, he got a pair of goals despite his xG being 1.3.

Were United to sign Van de Beek as a deep-lying midfielder whom the defensive burden was on, there is a strong chance the Premier League would not see the best of him. It would be bold to expect a similar attacking output from him in England's top flight if he was also tasked with protecting the defence.

But if he was to be seen as a long-term replacement for Pogba, there is an equally arguable case that United's overall midfield unit could improve with his box-to-box capabilities.

Pogba – who has missed the majority of the 2019-20 season through injury – averaged 1.3 tackles and 0.5 interceptions in his 35 Premier League games last term, which is fewer than Van de Beek. And while people might be correct to point out the World Cup winner is more known for his creativity than his work off the ball, Van de Beek's average chance creation of 1.8 is also better than Pogba's 1.6 in 2018-19.

Either way, it seems likely Van de Beek would be a solid acquisition if United were able to snatch him from the grasp of Madrid – but his well-rounded game could see him pigeonholed and his influence limited.

Nemanja Matic neatly sums up Manchester United's upturn in form in recent weeks.

The midfielder was considering his future in December but has now earned a one-year extension to his contract and talks have started over a longer-term deal.

The 31-year-old started only three Premier League games this season before the turn of the year but has become a key part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side during an 11-game unbeaten run in all competitions.

Using Opta data, we look at how Matic has turned around his United career - with a little help from a certain midfield partner...

Adding substance to style

Matic has always been regarded as a solid technician – his abilities on the ball and when distributing have never really been in doubt.

Even when it looked like his days at Old Trafford were numbered, one could still rely on Matic to be neat in possession.

But towards the end of last season, and when he featured in the earlier stages of this term, it was his effectiveness off the ball that raised concerns, appearing sluggish, slow and perhaps generally lacking fitness.

He is on the right track again now, however. Over United's unbeaten run, he has averaged three tackles per match, a figure only Fred and Andreas Pereira can match – though the latter has played significantly fewer minutes.

Matic is also averaging two interceptions per match. Scott McTominay (three) is the solitary United midfielder to have a better record in comparison – but again, the Scotland international has not played as regularly as the Serbian.

Recoveries are another area Matic is proving effective in, with eight per game, the second-highest among United's midfielders.


Fred finds his feet

But undoubtedly a key element of Matic's renaissance has been the overall improvement among United's midfield options, particularly with respect to Fred.

Even with Paul Pogba in the team last season, United's midfield was a real problem area. They rarely lacked control, teams often sliced straight through them and not enough creativity was coming from the middle.

The same cannot be said now. While Bruno Fernandes' introduction has obviously had an impact, a lot of it is down to Fred's adaptation. The Brazilian's well-rounded abilities have him excelling in many areas.

In 2020, Fred (546) is second only to Rodri (670) for successful passes, while his defensive side of the game has also seen him stand out.

The former Shakhtar Donetsk star has made 25 tackles, a figure bettered by only five other midfielders this season, 16 interceptions – behind just six other central players – and 92 recoveries, one shy of the leading figured posted by Pierre-Emile Hojbjerg.

Matic certainly deserves praise for seemingly saving his United career, but on the face of it, he is being helped by the fact he is now playing in a significantly more effective and cohesive midfield.

Nemanja Matic is set to play for Manchester United against AZ in the Europa League on Thursday but Paul Pogba is not yet ready to return, according to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Matic, 31, has been sidelined with injury since a 0-0 draw with the Eredivisie side back in October.

The former Chelsea midfielder has been tipped to leave United in January, having found his place in Solskjaer's first-team plans come under threat during the opening weeks of the season, with Serie A clubs including Milan and Inter said to be interested.

Matic is due to be given a chance to impress at Old Trafford, though, as United go in search of the draw they need to secure their place as winners of Group L.

"He's fit," Solskjaer said on Wednesday. "He's due to be involved."

Solskjaer also confirmed "it's a bit early" for Diogo Dalot to return, the full-back having only this week resumed training, while midfielder Pogba is still not ready to play following a troublesome ankle injury.

"It's too early," Solskjaer said of Pogba. "We hope so [that he will return in 2019]. He's working hard to get fit so hopefully we can get him back on the pitch.

"Let's get Paul fit first and then back in form and he'll play loads of games. He's one of the best players in the world and we're looking forward to having him back."

In the absence of Pogba and Matic, Fred has begun to cement his place at the heart of the midfield, the Brazil international producing arguably his best performances for the club in the past week in the 2-1 Premier League wins over Tottenham and Manchester City.

"Fred's had the confidence of the coaching staff and me and the players all the time," said Solskjaer. "This form is down to him because he's been working really hard. When he got the chance with Paul injured he grabbed it with both feet and we're really happy to see him perform at this level."

Those two wins over some of United's biggest rivals have eased the pressure on Solskjaer, which had been growing due to his team's frustrating lack of consistency.

Solskjaer, though, insists the belief in his plans to rebuild the team has never wavered, while he felt the decision to take largely a team of youngsters to Astana two weeks ago paid off thanks to the Spurs and City results.

"Inside [the club], we've always had belief in what we're doing. It might change on the outside but it's results, you can't change that," Solskjaer said. "It's the nature of football. Sometimes, you've got the margins on your side.

"I think the decision we made to send the young players to Astana made sure the players who stayed here were more ready because it was a hard week.

"Results are always the proof in the end, but we've always believed in what we're doing it. It's going to be ups and downs, but we're on the right track. I see these boys every day in training, the attitude and skills they have got, so I'm not that worried."

United have already qualified for the knockout phase and need only a point to guarantee top spot in the group, but Solskjaer insisted he wants to beat AZ.

"Of course I'm bothered [about the result]," he added. "I'm not going to send the boys out and say, 'I don't care if you win or lose'.

"Every game you play for Man United is a chance to prove yourself and to me and the supporters that you deserve to be part of the team for a long time."

A man has been arrested on suspicion of a "racially aggravated public order" during Saturday's clash between Manchester City and Manchester United, Greater Manchester Police have confirmed.

During the second half of United's 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, the visitors' midfielder Fred appeared to be hit by an object thrown from the crowd as he prepared to take a corner.

Lighters and a plastic bottle could be seen by the corner flag, while television footage seemed to show a supporter making racist gestures in the direction of Brazil international Fred and his team-mate Jesse Lingard.

Shortly after full-time, City released a statement saying they were investigating and threatened to issue life bans to any individual found to have committed racial abuse.

In a statement, Greater Manchester Police said: "A man has been arrested after a video posted on social media showed a supporter making racist gestures at the Manchester City v Manchester United match at the Etihad Stadium yesterday.

"At around 6.55pm on Saturday 7 December 2019 police were called to a report of a supporter making alleged racist gestures and sounds towards players during the Manchester City and Manchester United derby.

"A 41-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of a racially aggravated public order and remains in custody for questioning."

Superintendent Chris Hill of the City of Manchester Division added: "I would like to thank the public for their ongoing support with this incident.

"Racism of any kind has no place in football or our society and I hope this arrest shows that we are taking this matter extremely seriously.

"We will continue to work with Manchester City and Manchester United football clubs on this incident and will investigate any other lines of enquiries."
 

A man has been arrested on suspicion of a "racially aggravated public order" during Saturday's clash between Manchester City and Manchester United, Greater Manchester Police have confirmed.

Fred hit out at the "backward society" we live in after the Manchester United midfielder was allegedly racially abused and struck by a lighter in his team's 2-1 derby win over Manchester City.

A City supporter appeared to make racial gestures in the direction of Fred and team-mate Jesse Lingard in Saturday's Premier League showdown at the Etihad Stadium.

The incident happened when Fred went to take a corner in the second half, with a series of objects also being hurled towards the Brazil international.

City released a statement to say they are working closely with Greater Manchester Police and have vowed to ban for life any supporter found guilty of racism.

Former Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred confirmed he was hit by one missile and is eager for the matter to be dealt with but does not want to give attention to the perpetrators.

"Unfortunately we are still in a backward society," he told ESPN Brazil. "[It's a shame] we still have to live with that in 2019. 

"On the field I didn't see anything; I only saw it in the locker room afterwards.

"The guys showed me. [Someone] even threw a lighter and it hit me. I try not to care about that. I try to look ahead.

"Unfortunately, this is happening in some stadiums. It happened here, it happened in Ukraine with some friends. It's sad, but we have to keep our heads up and forget about that.

"We can't give them any attention because that's all they want. I spoke to the referee after the match, they will do something about it and that's all.

"We are all the same regardless of skin colour, hair and gender. We came from the same place and we all go to the same place when it's all said and done."

Fred was hailed by United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for his star performance against City, and the 26-year-old is grateful for the support he has received.

"Thank God I have a lot of friends here in the locker room who hugged me, like Lingard," he added.

"I don't want to think about [what happened]. I just want to move on."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hailed Fred's star performance after Manchester United won 2-1 away to rivals Manchester City in the Premier League.

Goals from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial set up victory at the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, with Nicolas Otamendi's late reply proving only a consolation for the champions.

A fourth league defeat of the season leaves City 14 points behind runaway leaders Liverpool, while United are a further eight points back despite securing successive wins.

Fred's form has improved in recent weeks after some strong criticism for much of his United career, and he shone against champions City, who had also reportedly been interested in signing him from Shakhtar Donetsk.

The 26-year-old's display was particularly noteworthy given he was part of an unsavoury incident in the second half, in which he was hit by a missile thrown from the crowd and appeared to be subjected to alleged racist abuse.

"[He was] Arguably man of the match today," Solskjaer told reporters of the Brazil international. 

"He took the ball, he's playing against Kevin De Bruyne, probably the best player in the league and I thought he was excellent.

"It's great to see it; the boy deserves it. But when you get a run and keep the team together, Scott [McTominay] and Fred have made a great partnership."

The game was overshadowed by those second-half scenes when United had won a corner, with Fred hit after several items were thrown to the pitch, while he and team-mate Jesse Lingard appeared to be targeted by abuse.

City and Greater Manchester Police have confirmed they are working together to investigate the incident, while Solskjaer called for a life ban from football grounds for any individual found guilty of such an offence.

Rashford was among the players to speak out over the incident, with United captain Ashley Young also posting on Twitter: "Should never have to post anything like this because I'd have thought it's obvious but racism has no place in football or society.

"Kudos to Man City for the swift statement, I hope the individual is properly dealt with."

The Fred incident will make the headlines, but Solskjaer was keen to highlight United's first-half display and the importance of holding on for a victory.

"I was so happy with the way we started the game," Solskjaer said. "The way we created big chances, we looked like we could score every time we had the ball.

"And the intent was there to go forward, every time we had the ball. It's not about keeping it or slowing it down; we go for the kill and should have been three or four-nil up.

"But then again, you're playing against the best team in the world, so you have to defend well.

"I think the way we had to prepare for this game, because you follow this team for three years, and they're so hard to defend against because they're so good, I'm very pleased with how they dealt with everything, our boys."

Manchester City are working with police to investigate allegations of racial abuse after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said two Manchester United players were targeted in the derby.

During the second half of United's 2-1 win at the Etihad Stadium, the visitors' midfielder Fred seemed to be hit by an object thrown from the crowd as he prepared to take a corner.

Lighters and a plastic bottle could be seen by the corner flag while television footage appeared to show a supporter making racist gestures in the direction of Brazil international Fred and his team-mate Jesse Lingard.

Shortly after full-time, City released a statement saying they were investigating and threatened to issue life bans to any individual found to have committed racial abuse.

"Manchester City FC are aware of a video circulating on social media which appears to show a supporter making racial gestures during the second half of the match against Manchester United this evening," their statement read.

"Officials from the club are working with Greater Manchester Police in order to help them identify any individuals concerned and assist with their enquiries.

"The club are also working with GMP regarding an instance of objects being thrown onto the field of play.
 
"The club operates a zero-tolerance policy regarding discrimination of any kind, and anyone found guilty of racial abuse will be banned from the club for life."

Solskjaer confirmed he had seen the incident and he too called for anyone found guilty of such abuse to be banned from grounds for life.

"I've seen it on video, of course," he told Sky Sports.

"Fred and Jesse in the corner taking coins from the City fans, first of all, so they've got to go away. Then there's this not-so-intelligent fella chanting racist abuse towards my two players.

"I hope City and the authorities will deal with it because he shouldn't be watching football again, not live anyway.

"We have to stamp it out. We keep talking about that every single week and it's not acceptable and he should not be allowed back into grounds. That's how simple it is."

Lingard tweeted after the match in response to footage of the alleged incident, saying: "Not even this idiot can ruin tonight's feeling, shameful behaviour, it may be the derby but there is never ever a reason to be racist!"

Anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out said it had "been inundated with reports of alleged racist abuse from a number of individuals" and called for "swift action" to identify those responsible.

City boss Pep Guardiola added that he supported his club's pledge to take action.

"I think the same as the club," he told Sky Sports.

"I support the club. We are going to work to avoid it happening again."

Kick It Out have called for "swift action" after reports of alleged racial abuse during the Manchester derby, a match in which United midfielder Fred was hit by a projectile.

A series of objects including lighters and a plastic bottle could be seen by the corner flag as United prepared to take a set-piece during the second half of Saturday's Premier League clash against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium.

Fred was then struck by another object thrown from the crowd before play continued.

Television replays of the incident also appeared to show a supporter making racial gestures in the direction of the Brazil international.

Anti-racism and discrimination organisation Kick It Out later tweeted to confirm it would be speaking to both clubs over reports of alleged abuse at the game.

“We have been inundated with reports of alleged racist abuse from a number of individuals during this evening’s Manchester derby,” Kick It Out said.

“We will be contacting both clubs to offer our support and hope swift action is taken to identify the offenders.”

The body’s head of development, Troy Townsend, added on his account: “The evidence is clear for all to see. Let's not make excuses again."

Page 1 of 2
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.