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No Ronaldo or Maguire? How Ten Hag's Man Utd might play

10:30 AM GMT 21/04/2022
Cristiano Ronaldo Harry Maguire Manchester United 2021-22
The Ajax boss, who will take over at Old Trafford this summer, is famous for high-pressing, possession-based football unsuited to certain players

After ramping up their recruitment process in recent weeks, Manchester United have made a decision over who will be their next permanent manager. 

Current Ajax boss Erik ten Hag will take the reins at Old Trafford this summer, after impressing in his interview and emerging as the standout candidate before signing a three-year deal with the Red Devils.

So, why Ten Hag? What does he offer? What kind of tactical approach will he implement at Old Trafford? And what effect will his appointment have on the club's transfer targets?

In terms of his preferred formation, Ten Hag employed a 4-4-2 (with a diamond in midfield) during the early years of his coaching career before moving on to a 4-3–3.

Now, though, he favours a 4-2-3-1, which will obviously be familiar to United's current squad, given it's the same system used by former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the one which interim manager Ralf Rangnick has also belatedly decided upon. 

Also, just like Rangnick, Ten Hag likes his teams to play an energetic, possession-orientated brand of football, with players pressing from the front.

However, Rangnick hasn’t been able to fully implement this style in his four months at the club, with the German coach questioning the fitness levels of his squad.

Certainly, the players have not looked physically capable of sustaining the kind of relentless pressure that Rangnick demands for a full 90 minutes, having not played anything like that under Solskjaer.

So, for such an intensive approach to work, Ten Hag has to improve his players' stamina levels, and also get them to play with greater commitment and drive. 

That will be easier said than done, given certain players have been critical of the training sessions put on by Rangnick and his coaching team.

But those critics will have no place to hide if Ten Hag does arrive. Players who have previously worked with the Dutchman have noted his meticulous planning of each and every session. 

He is said to be keen on video analysis and will suddenly stop sessions if a player is out of position.

Ten Hag will at least take encouragement from the fact that Rangnick has already made it clear to the board that United need to recruit more players with the requisite physicality and aggression to play this kind of football.

GOAL understands the club is already drawing up transfer target shortlists for each of their priority positions, and that these names will then be presented to the new manager, who will be the deciding factor in which players are signed.

It is also believed that Ten Hag will also be able to present his own targets to the board.

Time is obviously of the essence, which is why the club have been so keen to get a new manager in place sooner rather than later, so as to begin shaping the squad for next season as quickly as possible.

But which members of the current squad would already be suited to Ten Hag's preferred playing style?

Fred, Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho and Scott McTominay are the players who press the most, so should have no problem adapting. Paul Pogba also ranks highly, but is expected to leave when his contract expires this summer.

Pressing is a key part of Donny van de Beek’s game, too, and when Ten Hag takes over at United, the Dutch midfielder, who is presently on loan at Everton, would likely be welcomed back to Old Trafford with open arms by his former boss.

The older members of the squad are likely to be deemed surplus to requirements, though.

Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani are both out of contract in the summer and set to leave, while Nemanja Matic, at 33, has also confirmed his intention is to depart come the end of the season. 

But what of Cristiano Ronaldo? He doesn’t press in the way Ten Hag requires but has been the club’s leading scorer across all competitions this season, so a massive decision will have to be made on whether space can be made for the prolific Portuguese superstar in the new set-up.

It's also worth remembering that a new striker is high on United's list of priorities this summer, with Tottenham ace Harry Kane of particular interest.

The next manager will also have to make a call on Marcus Rashford, who has struggled terribly this season.

Still, Ten Hag revitalised Sebastien Haller's career after the centre-forward's tough time at West Ham, so maybe he could do something similar for Rashford.

Of course, one of the key elements of Ajax’s success is the ability to move quickly in transitions, but United are hampered in that regard by the make-up of their midfield.

Consequently, the club is also hoping to sign a world-class midfielder for the 2022-23 campaign, with West Ham’s Declan Rice their No.1 choice.

However, agreeing a deal with West Ham will not be easy, with manager David Moyes insisting that it would require a bid of more than £150 million ($200m) to convince the Londoners to part company with their most prized possession.

United are unlikely to meet such an exorbitant asking price, but they will have to find a commanding midfielder capable of linking the play if they are to start challenging the game's very best teams for major honours again.

There are also issues in defence, particularly as Ten Hag's approach requires effective attacking full-backs, which could spell trouble for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who struggles going forward.

Luke Shaw is obviously far more capable offensively, but the England man's form will have to improve dramatically if he is to retain his starting spot next season.

Ten Hag will also have to decide upon a regular partner for first-choice centre-half Raphael Varane, with Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly both more comfortable on the ball than captain Harry Maguire, whose performances have been repeatedly criticised this season.

Make no mistake about it: there could be some high-profile casualties when Ten Hag takes over, not least because of his willingness to put his faith in youth, which tallies perfectly with United's traditions.

So, which youngsters could benefit? Well, for starters, James Garner has shone on loan at Nottingham Forest and Anthony Elanga has shown he is worthy of his place in the first team under Rangnick.

There are plenty of other exciting talents within the Under-23s and youth-team squads that could fit in nicely with Ten Hag's tactics, but there is no disguising the fact that a major squad overhaul is necessary.