Manchester United went to Camp Nou with a midfield of Casemiro, Fred, and Wout Weghorst and put in a commendable display to get a 2-2 draw.
Erik ten Hag had to get creative with his team selection for the Red Devils’ clash against Barcelona in the first leg of the Europa League play-off round. With Christian Eriksen (injury) and Marcel Sabitzer (suspension) unavailable, the Dutchman swapped control for chaos.
Instead of trying to dominate possession and play through Barcelona’s midfield, Ten Hag instructed his backline, David de Gea in particular, to play long and find Weghorst or Marcus Rashford. While to stop the hosts from building from the back, Fred was tasked with pressing Frenkie de Jong, who was the deepest man in Xavi’s box midfield. The approach led to a frantic 90 minutes of football.
Fred’s intense man-marking on De Jong forced Barcelona to play out wide, and when the visitors attacked, De Jong didn’t show much determination to win back possession.
This dynamic also led to United’s goal. Casemiro’s pass found Fred in the final third. With no one around him to challenge for the ball, the midfielder had plenty of time to set up Rashford to make it 1-1.
The job that Fred did on Frenkie de Jong in the second half was ridiculous. He won us that second goal with his aggressive pressing. United as a whole were a lot better in terms of defensive structure in the second half.
— Jack Fawcett (@JackFawcett1704) February 17, 2023
Fred’s marking of De Jong has been exceptional, won another golden chance there.
— UnitedMuppetiers (@Muppetiers) February 16, 2023
On Thursday, Ten Hag expertly used Fred to keep De Jong quiet for much of the night. Next week, the onus will be on the 25-year-old to show why he’s so highly rated by his former Ajax boss.