Why Manchester United now need McFred to win the Premier League

Will Ford
McTominay Fred Man Utd

McFred was previously the sign of how far Manchester United were from mounting a title challenge, but the infamous duo are now critical to their chances of winning the Premier League. Not together, mind you…

Paul Scholes was right: “You would have thought with Casemiro being out that Scott is the perfect choice to come in for him.”

McTominay has indeed stepped up for Manchester United in place of Casemiro, whose absence could have been costly in their bid to secure Champions League football – certainly if Scholes’ previous thoughts on McTominay were anything to go by.

Here’s Scholes in November 2020, referring – as was the custom – to McTominay as half of the infamous ‘McFred’ double pivot:

“They were playing as centre halves not central midfield players. There was a lack of fight, a lack of spirit, a lack of determination to get balls into the box, to create chances like you’d expect with 10 minutes to go.”

And here’s Scholes again in August 2022, losing his cool on Instagram after Fred and McTominay were given the runaround by Brighton:

“Get on the ‘half turn’ for f*** sake and bring your more talented players into the game…”

Scholes, of course, wasn’t alone in deploring the midfield anchor of Fred and McTominay – the head shaking was almost universal among the amorphous blob of Manchester United pundits. And to Scholes’ credit, he’s changed his tune on McTominay while certain other legendary United central midfielders refuse to backtrack.

This was Scholes a couple of weeks ago:

“He’s a really talented player, he’s a really good player. He’s got on with his job and he’s a top-class player, Scott.”

And while he didn’t confess his own significant role in the process, he did admit that the Scotland international “probably got tarnished a little bit with the old McTominay-Fred midfield partnership”. It is a previously inextricable connection McTominay now appears to have absolved himself of.

He looked particularly good against Everton, scoring his first Premier League goal of the season having been given license to get forward by Erik ten Hag. And those driving runs of his, previously the cause of much anguish in the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer era, aren’t such a problem in a team now tactically astute enough to cover for him.

We’re not saying McTominay, or Fred, would be in a starting XI challenging for the title. Playing them together – which Ten Hag has cunningly avoided in the Premier League since the opening day defeat to Brighton – should still be avoided at all costs. But they are no longer the reason United can’t win the Premier League. In fact, they’re arguably critical to their chances of doing so.

There are reports that because of Financial Fair Play regulations, the Glazers’ sticky feet, or both, United will have to sell to buy this summer. And given they absolutely need a striker, and whichever striker they choose will cost close to nine figures, the departures will need to be significant.

McTominay could fetch £35m and Fred somewhere around £20m. That’s half a Victor Osimhen, who anyone would say is more vital to United winning the title than those previously maligned midfielders. But United also need back-up for Casemiro and Christian Eriksen, so would have to sign new central midfielders to replace Fred and McTominay if they did let them go.

Victor Osimhen celebrates after scoring for Napoli against Juventus.

Some reports have suggested that McTominay may up sticks in search of more game time, with Newcastle a destination which seems to fit pretty perfectly. But players like McTominay and Fred, who love the club, don’t kick up a fuss when sat on the bench and can come in and do a stand-up job to cover for injury and suspension, are like gold dust. Think Adam Lallana and Divock Origi for Liverpool in 2019/20.

Even if United had the wherewithal to buy a new £60m midfielder, whoever that is won’t be happy with a bit-part role, and having seemingly got a handle on the delicate dressing room dynamic at Old Trafford, Ten Hag will be loath to disrupt it.

“Fred and McTominay are not good enough. They won’t get Manchester United back competing at the top,” said Roy Keane at the start of this season. He’s right and he’s wrong. They absolutely will get United competing at the top, but will do so – for the most part – from the bench.

Because their commitment to United allows the club to focus on other areas of the team in which they don’t have the superior options, as they already do in central midfield. They need a right-back, they need a goalkeeper and they need a striker; keeping McTominay and Fred would make those acquisitions possible.