Football Features

How Man Utd could line up under Erik ten Hag

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:20, 21 June 2022 | Updated: 14:04, 21 September 2022

Manchester United are being linked with just about everyone in this summer’s transfer market.

With Erik ten Hag now firmly in place as the new coach, the Red Devils are going about recruiting him some new players to fill the gaps in the current squad. And while it doesn’t seem like they will quite get the 10 signings recommended by previous boss Ralf Rangnick, new bodies are almost certain to arrive.

So just how could United line-up under Erik Ten Hag? We’ve got three possibilities for you.

The Plan A

This is Ten Hag Classic, a nice and easy 4-2-3-1. This is the system United have been using for years and they have (most of) the players to pull it off. David de Gea keeps his place in goal while Diogo Dalot benefits from the squad needing major upgrades elsewhere and keeps his place at right-back along with Luke Shaw on the opposite flank.

The first change comes in defence as Lisandro Martinez could join United in the summer. After Van Gaal successfully talked Jurrien Timber out of moving to Old Trafford, Lisandro could be the man to follow Ten Hag from Amsterdam to Manchester. An extraordinary ball-playing defender, he would give United a genuine playmaker at the back while also meaning Harry Maguire could sit on the bench.

In midfield we have the crown jewel of United’s summer transfer window: Frenkie de Jong. Nothing is done yet of course, but a transfer seems likely given the noises coming out of Catalunya. And what a player United would be getting! A world-class midfielder capable of running a game both figuratively and literally.

Next to him, Fred has the most chance to start straight away given his eminently coachable quality (look at his improvement under Ralf Rangnick) but don’t discount James Garner from breaking out under the guidance of Ten Hag. These two would give United balance and control behind the maniacal Bruno Fernandes, who should get back to his best now he’s actually getting coached.

The final transfer is Antony, another Ajax player. The Brazilian is a devastating wing-forward with pace, skill and goalscoring ability. Having him on the opposite flank to Jadon Sancho, a massively creative player desperate for a system to thrive in, should give United superb balance behind Marcus Rashford back where he started his Old Trafford career: as a striker. The Englishman has really struggled for the last 18 months and a new position, with a coach like Ten Hag, could see his career revitalised.

The 3-4-3

Every good coach needs a Plan B, of course. A change-up formation that they can go to if needs be. Ten Hag played 3-5-2 as Utrecht boss, in a counter-attacking capacity, but with the abundance of forward talent at United he might alter the formation slightly.

A back three would allow for Maguire to remain a starter, albeit on the right with Lisandro Martinez (or another left-footed centre-back) on the left. These two would be able to drive the ball forward into midfield while Raphael Varane acted as the side’s sweeper.

As wing-backs, Diogo Dalot and Luke Shaw would provide the width. This would leave Frenkie de Jong and Bruno Fernandes to dominate the middle of the pitch with their relentless drive and energy. Neither is a true holding midfielder obviously, but backed up by three centre-backs they would be able to drive forward and use the space ahead of them.

Cristiano Ronaldo should see his role reduced this season because he physically is not able to play the kind of football Ten Hag requires. He remains a world-class goalscorer, however, and used more sparingly could still be a devastating force on the field. This 3-4-3 would be a system that would require almost no defensive effort from him, and with the livewire Antony and Jadon Sancho providing the energy and dribbling he cannot, there would no doubt be spaces for Ronaldo to rocket the ball in.

Man Utd winter transfer odds 22/23: To sign for before 3rd February Sky Bet
Goncalo Ramos 6/1
Ruben Neves 11/1
Christian Pulisic 12/1
Memphis Depay 16/1
Mykhailo Mudryk 16/1
Kylian Mbappe 16/1
Youri Tielemans 16/1
Declan Rice 16/1
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The Favourites

Manchester United have been linked with a whole host of players this summer, far more than they would ever realistically sign even given Rangnick’s recommendation. But let’s assume for a second that the Glazer family decided to seriously invest at Old Trafford and sign six players from among the favourites to join them this summer, what might that look like?

4-2-3-1 obviously, and Pau Torres is a consensus pick to join at centre-back even though Lisandro would be cheaper. Torres is certainly more proven at the highest level, being a Europa League winner, Champions League semi-finalist and Spanish international and would be a solid addition to the United defence between Shaw and Varane.

At right-back United have been linked with Inter Milan’s Denzel Dumfries, a flying full-back who would be a dream signing at right-back. Dalot is decent but Dumfries is dynamic; he had 136 touches in the opposition box last season in Serie A – more than striker Alvaro Morata!

In midfield we obviously still have Frenkie de Jong as the centrepiece but this time rather than pair him with Fred or McTominay, it’s another man United have been linked with for many years Ruben Neves. The Portuguese midfielder can sit and hold, spraying the ball around the pitch and allowing De Jong to be his best dynamic self.

The trio behind the striker remains the same, striking the superb balance of wingers who can cut infield but with different intents (or could swap flanks for a bit and play orthodox) and the brilliant Bruno Fernandes – who has created 214 chances since he joined the league, 38 of which are big chances. Both totals are second in that time only to Kevin de Bruyne.

In attack, United have actually been linked with a striker this summer. Much like United themselves, Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a disappointing 2021/22, but the Englishman is still just 25 and ready to enter his prime. Here is a striker capable of all the physical work needed in the Premier League but with the deftness of touch that could allow him to thrive under Ten Hag who has a penchant for using physical strikers in his technical teams (e.g. Kasper Dolberg and Sebastien Haller).

With Calvert-Lewin as a dominant reference up-top ahead of Sancho, Fernandes and Antony with the pace of Rashford and the goalscoring of Cristiano Ronaldo to come off the bench, United would be a scary prospect for opponents to have to deal with, which is not something anyone has said since before 2020/21 began.