José Mourinho: Fred can flourish if United’s defence improves

‘I think when the team is defensively stronger, the horizons for Fred change completely’

Brazilian midfielder Fred has had limited involvement at Manchester United since his summer move from Shakhtar Donetsk. Photgraph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty

Brazilian midfielder Fred has had limited involvement at Manchester United since his summer move from Shakhtar Donetsk. Photgraph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty

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José Mourinho does not feel he can trust big-money signing Fred until Manchester United finally find a way to defend.

Much was expected of the 25-year-old after becoming the club’s fourth most expensive signing of all-time after arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk in a £52million summer deal.

Manchester City vied with United for Fred’s signature but, like January acquisition Alexis Sanchez, Pep Guardiola’s men may well be thinking they have had a lucky escape.

The Brazil international was not even included in Mourinho’s injury-hit squad for Wednesday’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal and has only made eight starts for a United side who have already conceded 25 goals.

Mourinho said Fred was adapting “step-by-step” to life in the Premier League and added: “You have other players in other clubs that needed time (to adjust) and you have some of them that play even less than Fred is playing.

“I think when the team is defensively stronger, the horizons for Fred change completely.”

Such comments do not bode well for Fred ahead of Saturday’s important Premier League clash with rock-bottom Fulham.

United’s title hopes have already all but gone and they lie eight points off the top four after 15 matches, having failed to win any of their last four domestic games — even if there were signs of the “mad dogs” Mourinho has been calling for in the midweek draw with Arsenal.

“Yes, even the numbers, the stats that for me are not fundamental but sometimes they give us, they support our feelings, they support our ideas,” said Mourinho, whose job is reportedly under threat from Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino.

“We pressed the ball more, put difficulties to the opponent. We were fast in our transitions, so we had that spirit, we had that mentality that brought our game to a good level, to a better level.

“There are special players with special characteristics.

“Just to give you a couple of examples, (Ander) Herrera, (Marcus) Rashford are the kind of players that even if their game is not phenomenal, that intensity, that desire, that passion, that sacrifice is always present.

“But I prefer to say the team as a team had that mentality and we have to try to transport to this game (against Fulham).

“I know only two days (to prepare) is not easy — Fulham are in the same situation as us but probably the way they are coming to play or try to play will not demand as much from them as us. But no excuses.

“I sat here a few weeks ago speaking about December and no defeats — that’s a reality — good fights, good spirit, but just one victory against Young Boys and three draws.

“And we need points, but Fulham are the same. They need points.”

Mourinho is expecting a difficult afternoon against the Cottagers, whose boss Claudio Ranieri he described as “one of the two most important managers in the history of the Premier League” on the eve of the game.

Life will be made even harder at Old Trafford by the issues that Mourinho is having to juggle, with Sanchez and Victor Lindelof out injured.

Phil Jones and Luke Shaw missed Wednesday’s match with knocks, while Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling will be assessed after Friday’s session.

“(We are) still waiting for conclusions, still waiting for people like Martial, Smalling, Jones — people with these kind of doubts,” Mourinho said.

“But there is a good spirit and people are putting themselves on the line like Chris did in the last match and Jones did against Southampton (in last weekend’s 2-2 draw).

“That’s important when we have so many matches and problems with some players.”

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