Manchester United have been struggling with their midfield for years now.
Throughout the highs and lows of the Ole Gunnar Solskaer era at Old Trafford, the one thing that everybody could agree on was that United never looked as though they had a Premier League-winning midfield.
The infamous ‘McFred’ partnership of Scott McTominay and Fred has been widely maligned for the past few seasons with fans crying out for a traditional number six to replace Nemanja Matic.
Man Utd’s problems in midfield
But alas, the status quo remained untouched as Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick both came and went, leading to a situation where the Red Devils never seemed capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of its neck.
Instead, United seemed to be feeding off ‘moments’, flashes of individual quality, as opposed to having a coherent through line from the defence to attack that allowed them to break down teams.
As such, sorting out the mess that is United’s midfield must be pretty darn high on Erik ten Hag’s priority list as he looks to turn the tide at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ upon his arrival from Ajax.
The Old Trafford faithful have already been hanging off Ten Hag’s every word in an understandable state of fascination at how he can revolutionise the way the team plays from high-pressing to intricate build-up.
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The hunt for De Jong
And the beating heart of that entire style comes from the midfield, which United have desperately been trying to add Frenkie de Jong to in what is proving to be one of the most protracted transfer sagas in living memory.
A former collaborator with Ten Hag at Ajax, the Barcelona star has been hounded by United all summer long and we still have no idea whether or not an agreement will actually be found.
However, for as long as there’s still a chance that United can get their mitts on the 25-year-old, then there’s still reason to believe that Ten Hag can set up the club’s midfield in exactly the way that he wants to.
Twitter thread on Man Utd’s midfield under Ten Hag
Which is where a fascinating Twitter thread from @__hassan_i comes in, because it has set out to explain ‘How Erik Ten Hag will set up Manchester United’s new look midfield’ with or without De Jong to call upon.
Not only does it provide interesting opinions and insights on how Ten Hag likes his central trio to work in general, but it also offers a roadmap for United to escape the midfield dilemma that they’ve been mired in for so long.
All in all, the thread gives United fans a heads up of what they can expect from Ten Hag and what he’s aiming to achieve, as well as the reasons why he so desperately wants De Jong, so be sure to check out in full down below:
The way to progress the ball is shown in this clip as Fred shows for the ball in between the lines & looks to progress play— Hassan (@__hassan_i) July 27, 2022
Awareness, press resistance, & breaking lines is key to this role, which is why Ten Hag wants FDJ as the long term solution. pic.twitter.com/W8O1FnHrOI
Interchanging & fluidity is key to this role, as is understanding zones & patterns of play.— Hassan (@__hassan_i) July 27, 2022
A wildcard option for this role could be Zidane Iqbal, due to the fact that he fits the required profile, & has studied Frenkie De Jong.
Iqbal against Liverpool.pic.twitter.com/53DiFoUxPf
Here is Bruno stretching the defence & making a run in behind, something VDB often did at Ajax.— Hassan (@__hassan_i) July 27, 2022
These types of rotations & combinations, add an element of unpredictability & help break down low blocks, which is especially important for the PL. pic.twitter.com/SHx3IkuVKB
Ten Hag’s potential midfield vision
The moral of the story is that Ten Hag would ideally want De Jong to reassume the role he played so perfectly at Ajax, which Fred or Zidane Iqbal occupied in pre-season, with McTominay alongside him as a Lasse Schöne archetype.
From there, De Jong could drop deep to form a back three when required within the double pivot system he prefers, while the indefatigable McTominay could offer Jadon Sancho the support he needs to thrive out wide.
And either Donny van de Beek can directly play the role that he did under Ten Hag in his Ajax days or Bruno Fernandes can inherit the mantle as a number 10 given the freedom to be unpredictable and creative.
It sounds a lot simpler than it actually is, but what’s important is that there’s a clear set of three roles within a pre-agreed system linked to a specific style of football. In other words, there’s method and not madness.
Ultimately, though, United fans have seen the ‘McFred’ combination buckle and creak under pressure too many times to not read that Twitter thread and think that signing De Jong is anything less than critical.
There will be alternatives and the deal seems impossible to complete, but you can’t help feeling that the Barcelona star is the key to Ten Hag’s midfield vision coming to fruition at Old Trafford.