Right said Fred let’s settle this St Antony

Manchester United… 2

Barcelona… 1

(United win 4-3 on aggregate)

Fred, I owe you a profuse apology. It’s not all that long ago it was opined in this space that it was felt Fred The Red – the Manchester United mascot – would be more useful in central midfield than his Brazilian namesake.

So how’d the seismic change which has occurred so obviously in recent times come about? It would be ventured from this corner that it’s simply a case of a new-found confidence within the player himself. Which can often come about when under the direction of a new manager. More than that, it has now become obvious that Fred is pretty central to ten Hag’s plans going forward. Though hopefully not at greatest expense of Scott McTominay as he’s the type of rugged, battling midfielder a team can always do with.

Fred is doing his bit for Erik ten Hag

Now, if away goals were still of the same status as was once the case, it could have been assumed ten Hag’s team were very much in the box seat having netted twice at the once formidable Camp Nou. However, with that oddity rightly taken out of the equation, last night’s Europa League second leg tie at Old Trafford may as well have been starting from scratch at 0-0 overall rather than 2-2 after last week’s encounter.

Equally, Robert Lewandowski putting Barca ahead from a penalty ridiculously conceded by Bruno Fernandes shouldn’t have caused undue upset. All one needed to do was recall Clive Tyldesley’s line from the dying seconds of the 1999 Champions League Final “Can Manchester United score? They ALWAYS score”. Seconds later, Teddy Sherringham prodded the ball past Ollie Khan in the Bayern Munich goal to reignite the European dream. A few more clicks of the watch hands later and a certain shabbily treated former United manager finished the job.

Wout Weghorst

There’s nobody of that quality or status at the club now, but some of those who are in situ are undervalued to the point of being insulted. Exhibit A – Wout Weghorst, Exhibit B – Fred. I’ve already had a double helping of humble pie regarding the latter, gladly, but some of the commentary and conjecture pertaining to Weghorst has been horrendous.

Every manager has players to whom they have a particular fondness. If you need convincing of this, type Harry Redknapp/Nico Kranjcar into Google and that should tip the scales. Big Wout obviously fits into the same bracket with ten Hag.

Not for a moment is it being suggested that United have become the beggars of the football world, but if the big man can add something to their armoury which enables them to end the trophy drought at Old Trafford I couldn’t care less if he used a pick and shovel to make life more awkward for the opposition.

Still, doubtless the knockers and begrudgers had a field day when the bustling forward was withdrawn at half time. Something surely magnified by the electrifying impact of his replacement, Antony. Another lad who has had his unfair share of criticism since he arrived at the club.

Antony scored a magnificent winner

The following may be an enormous statement of the obvious but one still worth making – the chemistry between the two compatriots is very visible, and the level of output from one definitely improves when the other is on the pitch. Mind you, having just said the above, it needs to be pointed out that both their goals were actually individual moments of brilliance. Antony’s winner in particular.

So the progress train rattles along, but its durability will only be affirmed if the ten Hag era has a trophy to its name come Sunday evening.

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