Erik ten Hag wants to built around de Jong – with five in and five out

Erik ten Hag’s pre-season jigsaw: Man Utd boss wants squad built around de Jong in a Busquets role with Antony, Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and Tagliafico coming in and exits for Bailly, Jones, Tuanzebe, Telles and Pereira

  • New manager Erik ten Hag is hoping for a big summer of change at Old Trafford
  • Dutchman Ten Hag’s move from Ajax to Manchester United was revealed in April 
  • The Red Devils boss wants to build his team around Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong
  • They also want Antony, Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez, Nicolas Tagliafico
  • But several first-team players would need to leave before incomings were made 
  • Defenders Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe and Alex Telles could all depart 

The Erik ten Hag era got underway on Monday as the Dutchman took his first training session at Carrington after the summer break.  

And the former Ajax manager certainly has a full in-tray when it comes to transfers as he looks to radically overhaul an ailing squad.

United finished sixth last year with 58 points – their worst total for 32 years – narrowly missing out on the ignominy of the Europa Conference League in a hugely disappointing season despite their gargantuan wage bill.

Six players have already departed, with Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Edinson Cavani and Lee Grant leaving on free transfers this summer at the end of their contracts.

But there is plenty more to do, with ten Hag looking to axe several ‘dead wood’ players on massive wages, as well as bringing in a number of replacements and adding quality to the squad. 

The Erik ten Hag era got underway on Monday as the Dutchman took his first training session

Ten Hag, 52, has plenty on his plate with transfers as he aims to start well at Manchester United

On the incomings, the most obvious is Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong. The club has made no secret of their pursuit and he is their top target this summer.

The Dutch midfielder knows ten Hag very well – and vice versa – having played under the 52-year-old at Ajax for two years, earning himself a move to Spanish giants Barcelona for around £65million in January 2019. 

Ten Hag wants de Jong to be the first name in the door. Focus will shift to other signings once he is confirmed, and others are expected to follow.

As iconic Dutch midfielder Rafael van der Vaart alluded to recently, the Red Devils boss wants to completely build his midfield around the gifted 25-year-old playmaker, using him in a ‘Sergio Busquets’ role. 

Barcelona midfielder Frenkie de Jong is clearly the club’s No 1 target – and the Dutchman envisages using the 25-year-old star in the ‘Sergio Busquets’ role at the base of the midfield

Another definitely on United’s their watchlist is Brentford midfielder Christian Eriksen (above), who would be available on a free transfer as his six-month contract with the Bees ticks down

With defensive midfielder Busquets, 33, generally used in a deeper midfield role, with two more advanced central players on either side, de Jong has generally been used in the latter position, as a No 8, at Barcelona. 

But ten Hag envisions him as a No 6 in a 4-3-3 formation, more similar to how he was used at Ajax and for Holland. Questions remain over the slight 5ft 11in star’s suitability to such a role given that physicality – in the relentless world of English football – is not traditionally his greatest strength.

But the news will come as a boost to fans sick of seeing more prosaic players like Scott McTominay, Fred and Matic in central midfield.

Another definitely on their watchlist is Brentford midfielder Christian Eriksen, who would be available on a free transfer as his six-month contract with the Bees, signed in January, ticks down.

Ajax’s Argentine pair Nicolas Tagliafico (pictured) and Lisandro Martinez are defensive targets

Ten Hag worked with Martinez (centre left) during his five years spent with the Dutch giants

The 30-year-old former Tottenham star has rebuilt his career brilliantly in west London after having a cardiac arrest on the pitch for Denmark at Euro 2020, and would represent an experienced and creative option – and cheap too.

Ajax defenders Lisandro Martinez and Nicolas Tagliafico are also wanted as well and would likely slot straight into a first-choice back four.

Tagliafico would compete with Luke Shaw for a left-back spot, while Martinez would probably play at left centre-back, alongside Raphael Varane or Harry Maguire.

However, for those two moves to happen, other defenders would need to leave first, with Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe and Alex Telles potentially on the chopping block.

But for the moves for Tagliafico and Martinez to progress, United would have to let several players go, with centre halves Phil Jones (left) and Eric Bailly (right) on the chopping block

Brazilian full back Alex Telles could also depart as Tagliafico would compete for a left back spot

Although Ajax’s Brazilian winger Antony is an option, United have asked about other players. Out-of-favour forward Anthony Martial, who had an unsuccessful loan at Sevilla last season, is being offered as part of potential deals for wide forwards.

Brazilian midfielder Andreas Pereira can leave, with the north-west club hoping the 26-year-old agrees personal terms with Fulham, as the promoted side’s bid of £11million represents the best deal financially for United.

After the departure of goalkeeper Grant, 39, who has retired, and with the potential exit of Dean Henderson to Nottingham Forest, ten Hag’s side are also after a cheap, experienced third-choice stopper to act as backup and cover in case of emergency.

They were interested in Watford’s Daniel Bachmann, but Watford, justifiably, wanted a fee for a player with two years left on his contract and United were unwilling to pay what the Championship side wanted.

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