It’s really heartbreaking for a side to get so close to achieving their dream and then miss out by a few margins. Manchester City have been victims of this cycle for the last few years and this year’s European exit will haunt Pep Guardiola and his team for the remnant of the season and may very well carry over to the transfer window.
After a disappointing exit from UEFA Champions League and being on a tight rope for Premier League, signs have pointed to the rumours that Pep Guardiola will be looking to strengthen his squad with elite players for the upcoming season. While they have already wrapped up Argentine wonderkid Julian Alvarez to add depth to their attack, the signing of Haaland is looking more and more achievable as the days pass, news from Spain suggests that Barcelona have still not recovered from their fiscal deficit and will look to make funds by selling some of their star players. One name is floating around on Pep’s wish list since 2019 is Netherland international and Barcelona star Frenkie De Jong.
We all know how reputed De Jong is in terms of his abilities and his talent, let us discuss why this particular transfer is a 100% match for a player that Manchester City desperately needs.
Frenkie De Jong comes from Ajax’s academy which is known to produce some of the finest footballing talents the world has ever witnessed. Johan Cruyff’s teachings have been deep-rooted in Ajax’s philosophy as well as Pep Guardiola’s mindset. Pep Guardiola claims himself to be a student of the ‘Total Football’ ideology which was followed by Cruyff and Ajax.
While at Ajax, De Jong enjoyed his formative years under the management of Ten Hag. In Ten Hag’s system, Frenkie operated in the midfield three and mostly on the right side of the three. His job was to progress the ball forward, make turns and transitions from attack to defence and guide the tempo of the game. De Jong was an integral tool in Ten Hag’s jigsaw which helped him to reach UCL Semi-Final and win the Eredivise title.
At Barcelona, De Jong operated in various roles but in the majority of games, he has been operated in a similar role he used to play at Ajax. He enjoyed a good run of games under Koeman and has improved further under Xavi. Although he has observed his game time fall due to Xavi’s preference for nimble feet midfielders in Pedri and Gavi, De Jong still hasn’t put his foot wrong under Xavi. He has played a similar role which Xavi used to play under Guardiola and hence, he looks like a perfect player to succeed in this 4-3-3 system Pep uses at Manchester City.
FERNANDINHO’S SPOT AND RODRI’S COMPETITION
Pep Guardiola has a huge task on his hands in the coming transfer window. Captain Fernandinho has already declared his desire to play in Brazil for next season hence, there will be a vacant spot in Pep Guardiola’s squad. Although Rodri has settled in really well and has cemented his place in the anchorman role, in Pep Guardiola’s squad, no one has his spot reserved unless your name is Messi. Hence De Jong can also provide a good run for Rodri’s spot and may very well turn out to be a good replacement. Although De Jong is a specialist CM, he can equally operate as the defensive midfielder. In times when Busquets was injured or suspended at Barcelona, De Jong has bossed this role. Rodri in terms of the playstyle is very similar to Busquets and hence, De Jong would find it easy to understand the requirements for this role.
On the defensive side, De Jong is one of the most aware person on the field. He times his tackles perfectly and doesn’t risk diving in. De Jong is also one of the most disciplined midfielders in La Liga. In his overall career, he has been suspended just twice.
This discipline and sharpness combined with positional awareness and passing abilities of De Jong will be an added advantage for Pep Guardiola and Manchester City. Having De Jong in the lineup can help Guardiola, as well as Rodri in clutch moments of the game as Rodri, can advance himself for headers and set pieces (something Manchester City desperately needed against Real Madrid). De Jong’s inclusion will make City more fluid in attack, as he is one of the best keepers of the ball and very few can press or dis-posses De Jong.
Both Rodri and De Jong have passing accuracy of 91% this season and both are really close in terms of tackle success rate with Rodri leading by 1% with a 73% tackle success rate compared with De Jong’s 72%. Both these players have had similar movements this season and their heatmaps don’t tell any lies.
Frenkie de Jong:
Last season Ilkay Gundogan was City’s top scorer and became the most important player for them. This season, the German maestro has observed his game time starting from the bench, that may be due to Bernardo Silva’s excellent form and Jack Grealish’s arrival but, one fact that can’t go unnoticed is Gundogan’s movements in attacks have slowed down this season. Last season where Gundo used to boss those late runs, this season he has been observed to drift the ball towards the wings. Hence Manchester City’s most creativity comes through Joao Cancelo. Gundogan’s playmaking skills and vision are still unmatched as his arrival in-game against Real Madrid saw him create a quick opportunity for Mahrez to score. But, Gundogan has somewhat dropped the amount of work rate off the ball.
Gundogan will be thirty-two this October and hence, a long-term replacement should be sorted before the end of next season.
Enter De Jong, while the role Gundogan played for City all these years was to control the tempo and rhythm of the game. He orchestrated the midfield and intelligently sprayed passes all over the attacking side of the pitch. Meanwhile, De Jong can very well perform this role due to his natural abilities. De Jong is known to always scan the field for free teammates and empty space, his passes most often land accurately. If we look at the behaviour of their passing patterns, both players use to follow a very lookalike habit of passing.
Both these players progress the ball by playing one-twos with the holding midfielder and left-back. While against tight pressing or man-marking teams, both these players can switch the game with accurate long passing ability.
COMPLEMENTS OTHER MIDFIELDERS WELL
If we take a current look at Man City’s midfield options for next season, they have Rodri in the holding midfield role, Kevin De Bruyne as the source of creativity, Bernardo Silva to speed up the transitions, and Gundogan to add an extra man in defence as well as attacking sessions. Young players like McAtee and Palmer are good dribblers and have a good end product but, none of them except maybe Gundogan fits the bill of a De Jong type midfielder. While we can say Bellingham is the most similar player to Gundogan in terms of utility, De Jong can complement all these midfielders if paired together.
Manchester City operates in a 4-3-3 fashion with Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri taking right and center spots respectively. Bernardo has occupied the left spot and he has been good at bringing the ball forward by dropping deep and swiftly charging ahead. His work rate is world-class but he still lacks the positional awareness while defending.
If City had a player like De Jong this season, they would’ve had a player who could kill the opposition’s attack right in the midfield. Madrid initiated both attacks from City’s left side, and Liverpool exploited City’s left side in FA Cup. Hence, having a defensively aware and a good marker will eventually help City to avoid such mistakes.
Keeping the past aside, Pep can shuffle his midfield by using a versatile player like De Jong. Against high pressing and counter-attacking teams, Pep can have Rodri-De Jong partnership as double pivot midfielders to avoid losing the ball. Against balanced sides like Manchester United, Leicester, Arsenal, and West Ham; Pep could use De Jong as a regular box-to-box midfielder and allow Kevin De Bruyne more freedom off the ball. Against sides who like to sit deep and park the bus, Pep could use De Jong as a lone holding midfielder and 2 attacking 8s in Bernardo and De Bruyne to penetrate the opposition’s defence and take City’s line as high as possible.
These were some possible combinations Pep could utilize De Jong in while still keeping the team’s shape in 4-3-3, City can also change their shape mid-way with 4-1-2-1-2 as they are eyeing the prospect of having Haaland as the target man and Alvarez / Gabriel Jesus to support him. Pep has already used a 2 striker formation at City previously and the midfield at that time consisted of Yaya Toure in the holding midfield role along with KDB and Silva as two attacking 8s. Hence we should not dismiss the probability of Pep deploying 2 9s along with a no. 10 and two no. 8s for next season.
While the rumours are still new, Pep has been an admirer of De Jong since the Dutch’s time at Ajax. He was close to joining City but, Barcelona were quick to capitalize on their relationship with Ajax. If this transfer goes through, De Jong won’t require much time to settle in Guardiola’s squad, and this window could very well prove to be a successful one as City fans expect the arrival of Alvarez and Haaland as well.
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