Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has said £52 million summer-signing Fred will come good despite his recent lack of involvement and backed the midfielder to succeed when his side are "stronger defensively."
Mourinho's men host Fulham in the Premier League on Saturday, and in his pre-match press conference, the United chief gave a positive outlook on Fred's future despite failing to utilise the Brazilian in any of his last four league matches:
"Step by step. You have other players at other clubs who needed time and some of them played even less than Fred.
"I think Fred, when the team is defensively stronger and doesn't need in midfield people that are more worried in giving some balance to the team than being involved in creation and the attacking dynamic, the day we are stronger defensively, I think the horizons for Fred change completely."
Samuel Luckhurst of the Manchester Evening News gave a more damning assessment of Fred's first four months at Old Trafford and was ready to sort him with the club's other recent transfer disappointments:
One has to question what made Fred such a success in Ukraine, whether it's because Shakhtar had a better structure to suit his style or the player just wasn't tested to the same extent in that division.
It's been a particularly difficult transition for Fred given there are so many areas—including central midfield and central defence—in a state of flux at United.
Ciaran Kelly of the MEN touched on this and gave a previous example of Mourinho's easing-in process at work:
The Portuguese confirmed crocked duo Alexis Sanchez and Victor Lindelof will not be in contention to face Fulham, but he suggested there is hope for others to recover in time:
"The training session at 11 o'clock will give us some answers, Smalling, Jones, Martial, Bailly, of course Lindelof and Alexis we don't even speak about.
"But we need answers, and for sure we're going to play with players not with the maximum of their potential, but players who will make themselves available for the team like Smalling did last match, players in difficulty who go one step forward to try and help the team."
United are eighth in the table and have failed to win any of their last four Premier League matches, but the draw against Arsenal showed some improvement at least.
Mourinho was pleased with the fighting character shown by the likes of Ander Herrera in particular, via Sky Sports News:
Sky Sports News @SkySportsNews
Jose has found his 'mad dogs' 🐶 @ManUtd boss Jose Mourinho praised the attitude of his "special players" such as Ander Herrera and @MarcusRashford and was pleased with their effort against @Arsenal More from Mourinho here: https://t.co/vX5x3FQxgU https://t.co/j2leqopN4S
Fulham are bottom of the standings travelling to Old Trafford on Saturday, with 14 points separating them from United. However, Mourinho warned of a visiting team led by "one of the two most important managers in the history of the Premier League."
The Cottagers have won once, lost once and drawn once since Claudio Ranieri took over. That ratio of four points in three league matches (1.33 points per game) is far superior to the five points picked up in their first 12 matches this term (0.42 points per game).
Mourinho reiterated United's lack of victories of late and said United "need points" as they return to Old Trafford and seek their first Premier League win since November 3.