Erik ten Hag has a massive job on his hands to turn Manchester United back into trophy contenders but that would be made a lot easier if the club managed to sign Frenkie de Jong.
MEN Sport understands that United are weighing up a £75million move for the midfielder with Ten Hag keen on a meeting with the player he enjoyed much success with at Ajax. He has been identified as an ideal target and United has asked the Catalonians about his availability, but no deal is imminent.
There appear to be some massive obstacles to United pulling off the coup, however, namely De Jong’s desire to stay at the Camp Nou, his demands for Champions League football if he does depart and the likelihood of teams who can offer it also being interested. But, if the draw of working with Ten Hag again proves to be alluring enough, United will have gone a long way in making the team suited to their new manager’s ideal style of play with just one transfer.
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It’s not yet clear which formation Ten Hag will opt for with his United team but he would certainly have plenty of options if De Jong was at his disposal. Here are three ways United could line up if they signed him.
Ten Hag’s most common formation at Ajax was unsurprisingly the 4-3-3. It’s the formation that is intrinsic to the Amsterdamer’s philosophy and the Dutchman made it work especially well when he had De Jong deployed on the left of the midfield three.
The 25-year-old’s ability at carrying the ball forward as well as being the link between defense and attack suits a slightly more free role perfectly. It’s the position he has played the most in his career, as a result, at Ajax and then at Barcelona.
Though another defensive midfielder would likely need to be signed in order for it to work, as Fred and Scott McTominay aren’t best suited to the role, the potential of De Jong linking up with Fernandes in advanced positions is tantalizing.
Despite the usual pressure to play with the traditional 4-3-3 at Ajax, Ten Hag was never scared of changing things up if the match required it. The 52-year-old often deployed a slightly more cautious 4-2-3-1 during his time in charge at the Johan Cruyff Arena.
During De Jong’s time at the club, Ten Hag would use him as a part of the double pivot whenever he did change his formation and it worked well alongside a more defensive-minded but still dynamic and energetic midfielder. That’s Fred down to the ground and the two player’s attributes could compliment each other well in a partnership.
4-3-3, defensive midfield
On occasion at Barcelona, De Jong has also been used as the deepest player in a 4-3-3 and though he’d rather be involved further up the pitch he also does that role really well. While not a tenacious tackler or a bruising presence, he uses his expert tactical nous and positioning to shield the defense and his range of passing allows for him to dictate games from deep.
If United were unable to get another defensive midfielder, using De Jong might be a great way to offset that failure. Reuniting him with Donny van de Beek in the middle and adding youngster James Garner to the mix would flank him with two more players who are comfortable in possession and have a good eye for a pass.
Immediately United’s midfield would look much more dynamic and have the ability to play the ball through the pitch to launch patterned attacks, rather than the disorganized mess they currently have.
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