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Frenkie de Jong is the missing piece to Erik ten Hag’s Man Utd puzzle

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The Frenkie de Jong interest are back again, and while they may be getting tired of reports and rumours, Manchester United fans should be happy about that – he’d be their club’s best signing in years.

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Erik ten Hag made the man he managed at Ajax his primary target in his first transfer window as Man Utd boss, but failed to get him.

While the Premier League side were able to agree a transfer fee with Barcelona, De Jong himself had no interest in leaving the Catalan club (at least not until they paid the millions of euros they owed him in deferred wages).

That ultimately prevented the move from going ahead in the summer, but 90min understands that Ten Hag remains determined to make it happen.

Quite right too, because if he can do so, it’s a signing that would transform his side.

Casemiro

Casemiro is in need of the perfect partner / James Gill – Danehouse/GettyImages

Shortly after accepting defeat for the time being in their pursuit of De Jong, Man Utd went out and signed Casemiro.

That led many Man Utd fans, somewhat bitter over the fact that the Dutchman didn’t want to join their club, to claim that they didn’t need him anymore, but they’re wrong. Very wrong.

Granted, they don’t need a defensive midfielder with the Brazilian proving to be the one the club have longed for since the days of Michael Carrick.

They have an excellent number 10 too in Bruno Fernandes, but they’re lacking someone who can play between the two, linking the two areas.

Christian Eriksen has been tasked with doing so this season and has done a decent job on the whole, creating a lot of chances and controlling games well.

However, while his passing is excellent, he doesn’t have the speed or the ball-carrying ability to take the ball out of defence and get his team on the front foot in a matter of seconds.

If they had someone who was capable of doing that, they’d have one of the strongest, most complete midfields in football, and that’s where De Jong comes in.

He’s seen by many as a defensive midfielder, hence the claims that Casemiro’s signing eliminated the need for him, but he’s actually much better playing alongside one.

Frenkie de Jong

De Jong started every match for his country in Qatar / MB Media/GettyImages

He did use to be a number six, excelling there in Ten Hag’s Ajax side that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. However, with Sergio Busquets occupying that spot, he was forced to play further forward after joining Barcelona, and while it wasn’t his favourite position, it turned out he was pretty good at it.

Ronald Koeman discovered that after taking charge at the club following a stint as Netherlands manager during which he’d used De Jong as a DM. He tried to do so again at Barca but it didn’t work well, so he gave his compatriot a box-to-box role instead, and what followed was the 25-year-old’s best period at the Spanish club.

“It is the player himself who has changed,” said Koeman after making the succesful switch.

It was a similar story at the World Cup this year. He started it as the Netherlands’ deepest midfielder, playing there in their first two matches against Senegal and Ecuador.

After that, Marten de Roon came into the side with De Jong being given a more attacking role ahead of him, and it’s no coincidence that his team’s two best performances came after such a change was made.

He got on the scoresheet against Qatar thanks to a great bit of movement inside the box, while he started the move that led to the Dutch opener against USA from inside his own penalty area.

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In such a role, he’s still able to drop deep to dictate the game, pick up the ball from the backline and start moves, but has the freedom to get forward too. With his pace and dribbling, he’s therefore able to turn defence into attack on his own, and that’s exactly the sort of player Ten Hag’s team needs.

There’s real reason to believe he’d be even better in that team than he is in an Oranje shirt too, with him being held back by the fact that his country lacks a top holding midfielder to play alongside him.
With Casemiro there, that wouldn’t be the case in Manchester – on paper at least, the two are perfect partners and would bring out the best in one another.

For that reason and the fact that Ten Hag got the best out of him at Ajax, De Jong would be wise to seriously consider reuniting with his former boss, especially with Gavi and Pedri ahead of him in Xavi’s pecking order at Barcelona.

Should he change his mind, Man Utd have to go all out to make sure they get him. If they can, it could be the start of something special.

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