The arrival of Erik ten Hag at Manchester United has been much awaited, especially with the fans eager to see a new and attractive style of football. The past season for the Red Devils has been miserable, to say the least, and the Dutchman has proven pedigree of a brand of football that can mesmerize watchers. Crucial to any manager’s philosophy of football are the right players, and ten Hag is no different. The current Man United squad is nowhere near the quality that is expected from a club of such a big stature, and the Dutch coach will undoubtedly need reinforcements. High on that list is former Ajax and current Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The Dutch midfielder has been made a primary target by ten Hag, and the coach sees him as a pivotal signing to his plans.
The transfer saga has been going on for quite a while now, with reports suggesting that FC Barcelona have turned down United’s first bid of €60 million plus add-ons. With the days ticking down until pre-season starts, ten Hag will be anxious to get the deal done as soon as possible. While it remains to see if the transfer does go through, we have taken a look at how the 25-year-old Dutch midfielder will fit in at Old Trafford.
Frenkie de Jong and Erik ten Hag know each other very well, with the pair working together at Ajax from 2017 to 2019. The midfielder was a stalwart of the Ajax team that went on the magical UCL run under ten Hag in the 2018/19 season, defeating the likes of Real Madrid and Juventus enroute to the semi-final where they eventually lost against Tottenham Hotspur. Now the 52-year-old coach is looking to reunite with de Jong and reports state that he wants to create a team around his former player.
It is no secret that Manchester United’s weakness over the last decade has been their midfield. They have spent millions since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, but they have come up short in the middle of the pitch every season, and it remains their weak point to date. It is an area that Erik ten Hag has prioritized, with the midfield further weakened by the departures of Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata this summer. De Jong has been identified as the ideal replacement to breathe life into a dead midfield, and transform the squad.
WHY FRENKIE DE JONG?
The Dutchman has showcased his talent on the big stage since his debut back in 2016, and since then has blossomed into one of the best of his generation. His performances with Ajax earned him a move to Spanish giants FC Barcelona in 2019, and there he has cemented his place as one of the best midfielders in the world. The 25-year-old is very comfortable playing in a double pivot, in a 4-2-3-1 formation (where he played regularly during his time at Ajax), and as a left-sided or a right-sided midfielder in a 4-3-3 formation (where he now plays at Barcelona).
Frenkie’s talent and skills need no introduction. The midfielder is rarely troubled when on ball, and is very comfortable in possession. He can retain the ball exceptionally well and is almost press resistant, something that is a very good quality to have in the Premier League where you are afforded very little time on the ball by opposition teams.
Erik ten Hag will want to play with possession, and he will need his players to retain the ball and circulate it around the pitch when pressed by the opposition. de Jong offers a certain level of quality on the ball that has not been seen from the likes of Scott McTominay and Fred, the two United midfielders over the past few seasons.
One of de Jong’s underrated talents is his ability to create space. He draws out opposition players out of position towards him, creating space for others to move into and then beats the press with a slight feint to get the ball into space with a clever pass and create a goalscoring opportunity.
United midfield is seriously lacking in creativity, more so with Paul Pogba leaving. Bruno Fernandes has been the only creative outlet within the team over the past couple of seasons, and de Jong will add to the chance creation if he is signed. He is a very effective dribbler, and likes to carry the ball up the pitch and link up with the players around him, playing short passes and making their way through a defensive block.
Classified as deep-lying playmaker, de Jong has a wide range of passing skills, and his vision is second to none. With Frenkie de Jong you’re getting a midfielder who is constantly offering himself up as a target for passes while under pressure. In fact, compared to other midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues over the last year, he ranks in the 92nd percentile (top 8%) for making passes while under pressure from an opponent.
The Dutchman has an amazing sense of positioning, and that helps him in the defensive aspect of the game. While not a traditional defensive midfielder, de Jong can intercept the play and break down opposition plays due to his positioning on the pitch. He will need a high-energy and defensive-minded partner alongside him to excel. At Barcelona, Sergio Busquets fills the role of the defensive midfielder who anchors the defence and breaks down plays, and as a result, de Jong has not played in that role much as he did when at Ajax.
The 25-year-old has some decent defensive stats, making 0.32 final third tackles per 90 which is just average, but he has been dribbled past by an opponent only 0.67 times per 90, which is a phenomenal number that ranks him among the top 3% of midfielders. However, Erik ten Hag will want him to replace the void left by Paul Pogba and will want to partner him with a defensive midfielder, which is why United have also been linked with the likes of Ibrahim Sangare, Ismael Bennacer and even Kalvin Phillips of Leeds United.
It remains to see if United and Barcelona can agree on a deal for the young Dutchman, but there is no doubt that he will massively improve United’s squad, and Erik ten Hag will look to build upon his signing to kickstart a new era at the club.