Eight Frenkie de Jong midfield alternatives Man Utd should target (including Adrien Rabiot)
Manchester United have agreed a deal to sign Juventus midfielder Adrien Rabiot, according to reports.
The club have been actively pursuing targets to bolster Erik ten Hag’s midfield this summer, with the Frenkie de Jong transfer saga continuing to rumble on.
With their pursuit of the Barcelona man currently in limbo, Ten Hag has moved quickly to find an alternative solution by lodging a bid for Juve tempo-setter Rabiot.
That bid has been accepted, according to Sky Sports, with the club eager to bounce back from Sunday’s disheartening 2-1 reversal to Brighton, with Roy Keane particularly critical of Ten Hag’s midfield selection in that opening-day defeat.
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On Fred and Scott McTominay, Keane commented in the aftermath: “The [lack of] decision-making and football intelligence from midfield, particularly Fred.
“I’ve been going on about it for a long time – Fred and [Scott] McTominay are not good enough.”
With the lack of cutting edge in the middle of the park, coupled with De Jong’s hesitation to leave the Camp Nou this summer, Ten Hag has now sought to reinforce his midfield with the acquisition of Juve’s mercurial metronome.
The Frenchman offers similar stylistic traits to his Dutch counterpart, chiefly his dribbling and ball-carrying capabilities, ranking third last season in Serie A for most completed take-ons among central midfielders (44). De Jong, meanwhile, ranked fourth using those same parameters in La Liga (51).
The potential signing of Rabiot could prove a game-changer for the club, but of course, Man Utd haven’t had a particularly fruitful track record in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era when signing from Europe’s elite clubs — Alexis Sanchez, Angel Di Maria and Paul Pogba are all cases in point.
Ten Hag may find the most success in the market by plucking lesser-known names with star potential and star quality. And there are certainly plenty of De Jong types currently orbiting centre circles across the continent with that elegant gait so synonymous of the Dutch midfielder.
Matheus Nunes of Sporting is one such name. The 23-year-old Brazilian has emerged as a precocious midfield star in the heart of Ruben Amorim’s midfield, earning eight caps for Portugal as a result. His player radar looks exceptionally De Jong-esque, and with the added bonus of that robust defensive approach.
Khephren Thuram-Ulien is another name that should, not only elicit a nostalgic tinge of excitement — given his father, Lilian’s sporting legacy — but also a current sense of hype. At 6ft 4in, the Nice midfielder is built like a rugby prop, but has the ball-playing elegance of a playmaker half his size. Thuram had an incredible dribbling success rate last season (74.4%), completing 32 of his 43 take-ons.
Seko Fofana and Houssem Aouar are two other names that should enter the conversation when discussing De Jong alternatives. Aouar ranks second for most take-ons attempted among midfielders across Europe’s top five leagues over the last five seasons (534), while Fofana comes in at No. 5 (424).
Ismael Bennacer recently helped Milan win Serie A, but the Algeria international may feel he has unfinished business in the Premier League after leaving Arsenal in 2017 having never made a top-flight appearance in England, while Anton Stach is generating his own buzz in Germany for Mainz.
The now-capped Germany international ranked in the top 10 of the Bundesliga last term for shots, aerial duels won and interceptions among midfielders. At 6ft 4in, he has the physically-imposing frame to beef up Ten Hag’s midfield, but he certainly has few inhibitions when it comes to taking players on and dictating the pace of a match.
Ten Hag could, in fact, give up on his De Jong pursuit altogether and focus on another Barca midfielder, in Nico Gonzalez. The 20-year-old completed 2.76 take-ons per 90 minutes in La Liga last term, the best of any central midfielder who played at least 800 minutes. On top of that, of the 100+ players to attempt 40+ take-ons in La Liga in 2021/22, only Frenkie de Jong (85%) had a better dribble success rate than Nico (79.1%).