Manchester United are looking more likely to acquire the signing of Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona, and he will improve Erik ten Hag’s starting team.
The Netherlands international was a key member of Ten Hag’s famous 2019 Ajax side that reached the Champions League semi-final and can be a vital cog in how he will operate with the team at Old Trafford.
United have ramped up the process to sign De Jong, with updates from English media flooding out throughout Friday, and fans are starting to think how the midfielder will line-up in his former manager’s starting eleven.
We are going to do exactly that, however, it’s unlikely that De Jong will be the only summer signing that Ten Hag brings through the door.
So, first of all we will compile a starting XI with United’s current personnel and the Dutchman in the heart of the midfield. But, then also consider the other key areas that need addressing and suggest who might be brought in for the position.
United’s best XI with Frenkie de Jong
David de Gea;
Diogo Dalot, Raphael Varane, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw;
Fred, Frenkie de Jong;
Amad, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho;
Starting off with the most obvious part of the team – De Jong’s partner. In the current side, there are only two options to pick from after Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic were confirmed departures this summer, alongside nine other Reds.
Fred is the choice in the team, however, De Jong would be best utilised next to a new midfielder, which will be discussed later.
While neither Fred or Scott McTominay are ideal partners for the Dutchman, the 29-year-old would provide a better frame for him to do his best work.
De Jong is often doing that when progressing the ball into the final third, this is usually done through the left-hand side of the pitch, which would mean the Brazilian would work from the right, which he has done at times in his United career.
Fred is more comfortable picking the ball up in deeper positions from his defenders and moving the play forward than his Scottish counterpart, which will mean that the Barca midfielder could remain slightly further forward.
Although, it’s well known that both of the midfielders in United’s ranks are much better players when offered the freedom to play as the number eight, with more freedom to move up the pitch, Fred’s suitability is better than McTominay’s, who despite his stature, is worse at defending spaces, tackling and picking the ball up from defenders.
Moving on, and the man in front of Frenkie will make all the difference. I’ve stuck with Bruno Fernandes, who had a torrid back-end of the last campaign, but that could easily soon change to Donny van de Beek, who starred under Ten Hag at Ajax.
Both of the midfielders, when they’re at their best, can find spaces between the lines in order to pick up the ball. Bruno’s tendencies to drop deeper and look to do things on his own would not suffice, but if he’s able to stick at what he’s good at, he’ll be able to help Frenkie with options to play forward.
While Van de Beek would likely link up better with his teammate from the youth academy at Ajax. It will be an interesting decision to see who prospers there long term under Ten Hag.
A surprise addition is Amad, who was on loan at Rangers last season. The 19-year-old was bought to Old Trafford as one of the most exciting talents in Europe, and playing in a possession-based system, with De Jong as the heartbeat, could bring his talent to the forefront.
Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga both prefer to play from the left, and Jadon Sancho pips them both in that position – unless Rashford is able to rediscover his form of previous years.
The leaves Amad as the only left-footed, natural right-winger in the squad. While you have to be careful to chuck young players into the deep end, he is the only one that currently might be able to swim in this kind of system.
Who could be brought into this team?
There are, of course, a number of areas that can be strengthened. A lot of them, actually.
However, the main positions you’d look at are a right-winger and a partner for De Jong in the double pivot. A centre-back, centre-forward and right-back would be next on the agenda most likely.
A defensive midfielder alongside the Dutchman, should he join, would be the priority. Ten Hag has previously explained that he needs a deeper player next to him, who can cover the centre of the pitch while De Jong looks to make things happen.
United have not been linked to many players of this ilk so far this window. Ibrahim Sangaré is one that the Reds are said to be interested in, Chelsea are another that have looked at the Ivorian who is said to have his heart set on a Premier League move.
On the right-wing, United have reportedly put in a £38 million offer for Antony in an attempt to reunite the Ajax star with Erik ten Hag, but it’s unlikely that this will be accepted.
It would be a move that would make sense, with the 22-year-old already used to the football played under Ten Hag, although, he is not the finished product by any means. Another player with previous links to an /Old Trafford move is Leeds’ Raphinha.
Darwen Nunez was the primary target up-front for United, but they have lost the race for the Uruguayan to Liverpool, while a number of defenders have been linked with a move to the Theatre of Dreams such as Pau Torres, Alessandro Bastoni and Sven Botman.
United’s targets are placed right. With these positions all needing additions. Ten Hag could possibly wait for a right-winger, with the belief that he can make the most out of United’s frontline.
This would allow focus on the essential midfielder that is needed alongside De Jong, and then a defender, with Harry Maguire’s form and Raphael Varane’s fitness both question marks in United’s backline. A forward to challenge Cristiano Ronaldo would be another welcomed addition.
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