Erik ten Hag could drastically change Manchester United’s midfield options ahead of the new season with a mega-money signing, former Spurs star and Red Devils academy graduate
Last season was one that highlighted so many glaring flaws within this current Manchester United side, but their midfield was a problem area for the entirety of the campaign.
From the opening exchanges under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer right through to the end of the ill-fated interim reign of Ralf Rangnick, United’s midfield never really got going no matter who they deployed in the middle of the park.
It was one of the reasons United were on the receiving end of so many humiliating high-scoring defeats, such as the 4-1 loss away at Watford that got Solskjaer sacked or the memorable 5-0 home hammering at the hands of fierce rivals Liverpool.
With that in mind, Erik ten Hag is likely to switch things up next term in a bid to avoid such results happening once again. In actual fact, the new United manager’s ideal midfield trio could be the most exciting the Old Trafford faithful has witnessed in quite some time.
The former Ajax boss is desperate to reunite with one of his former stars in Amsterdam in Frenkie de Jong. Now of FC Barcelona, the Netherlands international is clearly United’s priority transfer target this summer.
Though that may be the case, it is proving incredibly difficult to actually reach an agreement with the La Liga giants for De Jong’s services. It is rumoured that Barcelona have placed an £80m valuation on their midfielder’s head, a figure that could be tough for United to meet given their need for other signings.
That is without factoring in the harsh reality that De Jong has admitted he would favour the idea of staying put at the Camp Nou. Asked about United’s attempts to sign him, the 25-year-old took it as an opportunity to praise Barcelona.
“You’re always flattered when teams show interest in you as a player but I am at the biggest club in the world at the moment and I feel fine there, so no news.”
Ultimately, United still have a fighting chance of landing De Jong due to Barcelona’s perilous financial situation and their potential need to generate funds.
The second cog comes in the form of former Tottenham Hotspur star Christian Eriksen, who has long been admired by the United hierarchy with Sir Alex Ferguson in particular a fan.
Back in 2012 after a Europa League clash with Ajax, Ferguson heaped praise on the Denmark international. “He’s a good player — a typical Ajax player who is good on the ball — but we already knew that,” Ferguson told TV3+ , as quoted by ESPN. “We have many young players at the club, but we are always looking for talent. It’s impossible to predict.”
Eriksen returned to the Premier League with Brentford mid-way through last season after suffering an on-pitch cardiac arrest while playing for Denmark in last year’s Euros. He immediately became arguably the Bee’s best player and proven he can still operate at the highest level – sparking interest from Old Trafford.
Given his former Ajax ties, there is every chance Ten Hag reaches out to the midfielder to pitch the idea of a move to Manchester. If that were to happen, he could find himself playing alongside one of the most highly-rated youngsters at United.
James Garner has long been touted as a player with a huge chance of breaking into the first-team sooner rather than later and it looks as if that time has finally come.
Having made his first-team debut in February 2019 under Solskjaer, becoming United’s 230th academy graduate in the process, Garner has since spent a season on loan at recently-promoted Nottingham Forest and shone further.
He has already been tipped to follow in the footsteps of a former United icon by Solskjaer, who explained after his debut: “I believe he’s got the chance to have a great future. He knows we believe in him, we’ve got great faith in him as the next Michael Carrick.
“I know he’s young and I know it’s not fair on kids to compare to great players like Michael was, but he’s the same mould, he plays simple passes, plays through the lines.”
Garner’s class has shone through at the City Ground after failed loan spells elsewhere and it seems as if he is finally ready to stake his claim for a place in the midfield at Old Trafford.
That is not to suggest the midfielders United deployed last season will be out of the team, the likes of Scott McTominay and Fred are expected to still enjoy sufficient game-time – particularly with the exit of Nemanja Matic.
‘McFred’ is a partnership that has often been criticised for what it lacks, but when paired behind a player with the technical prowess of De Jong, Eriksen or even young Garner and the Old Trafford faithful may witness a new side of players that had previously been written off.
Were Ten Hag to opt for a 4-2-3-1 formation, it would most likely see Eriksen vying for that central attacking midfield role against fan favourite Bruno Fernandes. The Portugal international endured a hit and miss season last time out and may be made to sweat for his starting place if Eriksen does join.
A midfield exodus this summer has seen Matic, Juan Mata and Paul Pogba all leave the club at the end of the campaign. There is still the chance for forgotten man Donny van de Beek to try and revive his flatlining United career, potentially alongside his former teammate De Jong.
Barely used by either Solskjaer or Rangnick, Van de Beek was exiled out to Everton on loan last January but failed to make an impression. There are high hopes he can recapture his Ajax form now he will be playing under the man he played his best football under in the Dutch capital.