Manchester United have finally concluded their search for a new manager, with Erik ten Hag confirmed as the next man in the hot-seat from the summer.
United settled on their next manager before the end of the season to help accelerate their transfer plans. Time is of the essence ahead of another crucial transfer window, and Ten Hag won’t want to waste any time in identifying targets, working with Ralf Rangnick.
United were impressed by how Ten Hag assembled two successful Ajax teams either side of the sales of Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong in 2019. There is also a belief that the 52-year-old can be a genuine long-term success at Old Trafford given the longevity he has enjoyed at Ajax since joining in December 2017.
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United’s football director John Murtough said: “In our conversations with Erik leading up to this appointment, we were deeply impressed with his long-term vision for returning Manchester United to the level we want to be competing at, and his drive and determination to achieve that. “
Another key component working in Ten Hag’s favor is that he fits perfectly into the mold of the manager Rangnick can work with, as the Dutchman is another coach who puts an emphasis on pressing, aggression while out of possession and a flexible style of play which can change in-game. Just like Rangnick, Ten Hag has also played down the over-analysis of formations, instead suggesting that the success of any team is all about how they react in a match to changing circumstances.
He’s said previously, “It’s not even about systems. It’s about what you do in possession, when you lose possession, and in those turn around moments. And you need to be able to change that up. The players’ qualities determine how you play .”
While the precise formation might not be overly important to Ten Hag, individual player roles certainly are. A key component of his Ajax sides have been the ability to build-up play from the back, something that he would likely need to address in the transfer market at United. Of particular importance is having a midfielder who can drop deep when in possession and receive the ball from the two centre-backs before moving play forward and distributing it further up the pitch.
It’s a role that is currently occupied by Mexican international Edson Alvarez at Ajax, who selflessly drops back to get involved in play before recycling the ball as a base for many attacks. Being a good passer of the ball is essential in such a role, as is the ability to intercept passing lanes in order to protect the two central defenders.
Adding such a player to the squad this summer would not only be essential in regards to executing the desired style of play under Ten Hag, but it would also be a key component in helping to bring the best out of the defenders at the club, ensuring their frailties are not so easily exposed. Nemanja Matic is the only player capable of playing such a role out of those already in the senior set-up at United — and he’s already announced his intention to leave in the simmer.
Scott McTominay certainly has the aggression and fitness to play in the deeper position, but he would need to drastically improve his distribution if he were to make it his own. James Garner is certainly an exciting option for next season, but it would be naïve to expect him to become a United regular, despite his great form at Nottingham Forest.
Instead, the best solution would be to add a new specialist defensive midfielder in the summer while keeping Garner at the club as a rotational option to bring off the bench and use in cup competitions. United sources have already admitted that signing a new midfielder is their ‘biggest problem’ ahead of the next transfer window, and the growing interest in Ten Hag will only amplify it further.
Declan Rice is coveted and has expressed interest in joining United, but West Ham could price Rice out of a transfer until next year as his contract is up in 2024. Their hand could be further strengthened if success in the Europa League leads to Champions League qualification next season.
It is quite clear where the priority lies for United this summer. But at least they now have a manager announced for the summer, to speed up transfer plans.
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