Football News

Matthijs de Ligt to Man Utd transfer: Ten Hag’s protégé missing piece in defensive puzzle?

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 22:15, 2 July 2024

After much speculation, Erik ten Hag is now looking forward to his third year in charge of Manchester United.

Before kicking off the forthcoming Premier League campaign against Fulham, the Red Devils are expected to have another busy summer.

No fewer than 13 players have joined the Old Trafford club across the past two pre-season transfer windows, many having previously worked under the Dutch tactician.

If reports are accurate, Ten Hag’s compatriot Matthijs de Ligt will soon become the latest.

No stranger to being linked with United, they were among the many clubs interested before he swapped boyhood club Ajax for Juventus shortly after teaming up with the current United boss on an unprecedented Champions League semi-final run.

It was during his final season with the Amsterdammers in which a 19-year-old De Ligt showcased qualities beyond his years.

“I don’t know if De Ligt has shown 60-80 per cent of his potential,” Ten Hag said. “But we are talking about one of the best defenders in Europe and I have no doubt that he will soon be number one in this position.”

It never quite worked out for the centre-back at Juve, and he soon left after three seasons to join Bayern Munich, where his current deal expires in June 2027.

Manchester United’s recent pursuit is logical in two senses: to replace the veteran Raphaël Varane while installing someone who knows Ten Hag’s defensive instructions like the back of their hand.

His acquisition will see him forge a central defensive partnership with Lisandro Martínez — who signed for Ajax soon after De Ligt departed — in front of sweeper-keeper André Onana.

Onana and De Ligt played over 110 matches together in Amsterdam, subsequently developing a near-telepathic understanding. Onana, who endured a baptism of fire at the record English champions, might perhaps enjoy a redemptive season with De Ligt’s presence in United’s backline.

A settled defence was something United lacked during the 2023/24 season, and it’s something Ten Hag took pains to point out as a factor behind their shocking defensive record.

“I tell you [the media] this all year – when the players are fit, we can play good football,” he told BBC Match of the Day after winning the 2024 FA Cup final.