Of all the problems Erik ten Hag has to sort on the field when he arrives at Manchester United — without even considering all the ones off the pitch — the midfield may be the most important.
It’s a position that someone who doesn’t even watch football would probably be able to tell you is an issue with United, considering it’s so obvious and has been the case for so long. United haven’t been able to control matches for years and that stems from not having the players capable of doing so in the middle of the park.
However, United have repeatedly opted not to solve the problem and instead have spent lavishly on other areas, often with unnecessary purchases. Without a strong foundation the house falls down and United’s is made out of cheese-string.
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Scott McTominay and Fred both have their qualities and are capable of bright moments, but both of their games are based on energy, tenacity and robustness, rather than technical ability on the ball. United are in desperate need of a player who can dictate games from deep. A player with the capability to carry the ball out of tight spaces, to know the right passes to make at the right moments, to bring a long-lost measure of control to the side.
Thankfully, the club has finally acknowledged it to be the case and they’re looking to bring in a midfielder (or two) this summer, which is just as well as Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic are departing, leaving their options further reduced. United are in need of a midfield transformation.
Thankfully, they couldn’t have picked a more perfect target than Frenkie de Jong. MEN Sport understands that United are weighing up a £75million move for the Dutchman, with Ten Hag keen on reuniting with a player he enjoyed so much success alongside at Ajax.
De Jong is the exact profile of player that United should be looking for and if the club actually manage to pull the transfer off — which, granted, is by no means guaranteed — then Ten Hag could already be way on the way to fixing such a crucial problem on the side.
Although United, if the budget allowed, would likely need to sign another midfielder as well as De Jong, recruiting the 25-year-old would go a long way in helping to revolutionize their midfield.
Ten Hag already has another meeting on his hands as he will once again be working with Donny van de Beek when the midfielder returns from his loan spell at Everton. While he hasn’t pulled up any trees at Goodison Park, Van de Beek was excellent at Ajax under Ten Hag’s stewardship and the incoming manager knows exactly how to get the best out of him again.
James Garner will also be returning to Old Trafford this summer and his loan spell was much more successful. The academy graduate has been a crucial cog in Nottingham Forest’s remarkable campaign, as they went from a relegation candidate to within a whisker of automatic promotion under Steve Cooper. The play-offs are still to come but Garner has certainly earned a chance at United.
Even if there are concerns that he has only done it in the Championship, it should be reminded that the 21-year-old also put in excellent displays against Arsenal, Leicester and Liverpool in the FA Cup. Garner provides a cultured pass and confidence on the ball, as well as an eye for a spectacular goal, and could complement De Jong and Van de Beek nicely.
In one fell swoop, United’s midfield options could go from having no ingenuity, guile or creativity, to having three players who are able to move the ball about the pitch, maintain possession and launch attacks. Which is crucial to Ten Hag’s style of play.
There are plenty of obstacles to United signing De Jong, but the future would look immediately brighter if they manage to do so.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.