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Home   /   Is Frenkie De Jong Manchester United’s Long Awaited Midfield Maestro?
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Words By Ciaran Coyle

It’s no secret that Ralf Rangnick’s Manchester United side have had a less than impressive season. The Red Devils currently sit in sixth place in the Premier League table, eight points behind the Champions League places. With this in mind, there is no question that a major overhaul is needed at Old Trafford.

With the likely departure of Paul Pogba in the upcoming summer transfer window coupled with the confirmed departures of Nemaja Matic and Juan Mata at the end of the season, incoming manager Erik Ten Hag will be starting his new position with a lack of options in the middle of the park.

Recent reports have suggested that one of the prime candidates to fill one of the vacant midfield positions and become the Dutchman’s first signing as United boss, is Barcelona midfielder, Frenkie De Jong. The 25 year-old played under Ten Hag at Ajax and is said to be one of the players which may be allowed to leave the Spanish Giants in the summer due to their ominous financial situation.

Reports from Spain suggest that De Jong would be available to United for a fee in the region of 70-80 million euros, but how does he compare with the current crop of midfielders applying their trade at Old Trafford and where would he fit into Ten Hag’s team.

Stats provided by Planet Football

The Dutch midfielder typically occupies the position at the centre of the pitch and looks to get forward and dictate play from there. According to Planet Football, In comparison to United’s current midfield options, he has the highest passing accuracy with 91.3%, with Scott McTominay coming behind De Jong with 85.8%.

De Jong also has the second highest chances created per 90 minutes, level with Paul Pogba and just 1.0 short of Bruno Fernandes this season. Despite there being very little difference in the frequency of the chances they create for their teammates, the Manchester United duo both have more assists than the Dutchman, with Fernandes and Pogba collecting six and nine assists respectively compared to De Jong’s three from 31 LaLiga games.

If De Jong was to join United and become Ten Hag’s first signing as manager, he would most likely not be expected to plug the defensive hole left by the departure of Matic, who led the way for interceptions per 90 minutes ahead of his other United teammates with 2.0 per game this season. De Jong is not known for his defensive abilities and comparatively with the other United central players, he has the second lowest successful tackles per 90 minutes with 0.8, with Fernandes the only player to come out with a lower score.

Despite his defensive shortcomings, those that have heavily analysed De Jong’s time at Barcelona have emphasised his ability to dominate possession and help his side overcome deep defensive blocks, something which United have struggled to do all season.  The Red Devils have drawn 10 games out of 38 this season, including suffering stalemates against relegation strugglers Watford,  Everton and Burnley at various points in the season.  Dropping points in this fashion is what tends to set apart the contenders from the pretenders in the race for Champions League football, so the addition of De Jong could provide the extra creativity needed to make the difference in these tight games.

It’s possible with his fellow countryman, Donny Van De Beek, coming back from his loan spell with Everton at the end of the season , we could see Ten-Hag utilise the pair in a similar fashion to how they were used in Ajax’s impressive team which made the Champions League semi-final in 2019. De Jong played the majority of the season on the right-hand side of a three man midfield with Van De-Beek playing in the ‘number 10 role’ which is currently occupied in the United line-up by Bruno Fernandes. However, if Ten Hag decides to go with a 4-3-3 formation, there may not be enough room to accommodate the three of them in the same team as there is a distinct lack of balance, with none of the player possessing particularly strong defensive characteristics. Leaving a backline which has conceded the most amount of goals that a Manchester United backline has in a single season with 56, doesn’t seem like the most sensible option.

However, with his technical ability on the ball surpassing seemingly surpassing most of the alternative options in the United midfield and the potential for a reunion with a coach who evidently got the best out of him, this signing if pulled off, could prove to be a match made in heaven for both player and club.

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May 2022
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