Manchester United

How Manchester United could line up with Frenkie de Jong

Sean Walsh
De Jong is wanted by Man Utd
De Jong is wanted by Man Utd / Fran Santiago/GettyImages

Manchester United are serious about signing Frenkie de Jong from Barcelona.

Erik ten Hag is intent on a reunion with his former Ajax star at Old Trafford, who would bring some much-needed quality to their engine room.

90min understands United are confident of landing De Jong sooner or later as talks progress, and he could be their first signing of the summer.

But how would United line up with De Jong in the side? 90min has some ideas...

Is De Jong a defensive midfielder?

This is a question that Ten Hag will have a better idea of the answer to than most, but he will need to make his mind up quickly.

Statistically, the answer is probably not - but of course football is far more nuanced than pure stats. Per fbref, De Jong has completed just 74 tackles and made 83 interceptions in La Liga since joining Barcelona three years ago, while he has a 27.8% success rate when tackling a dribbler.

However, De Jong is an effective presser of the ball, with Barcelona recovering possession more than 30% of the time after the Dutchman has applied pressure.

De Jong has said himself that he likes to be the first player to receive the ball from the goalkeeper, but it remains to be seen how his playing style will translate to the Premier League. It is feasible that Ten Hag will deploy a defensive midfielder alongside De Jong to allow him to play the regista role - like Jorginho at Chelsea.

However, if Jorginho is the archetype then it may take some time for De Jong to acclimatise, although the Italy international has eventually emerged as a very capable defensive midfielder.

De Jong in a lone pivot

At Ajax, Ten Hag often deployed De Jong as the only holding midfielder in a 4-3-3, while he is currently used at the base of a five-man midfield by Louis van Gaal for the Netherlands.

The 25-year-old was unable to oust Sergio Busquets as the 'number six' at Barcelona but he has plenty of experience in the role despite this absence of playing time at club level since leaving Amsterdam. If United are to become a possession-based team, then a player like De Jong needs to be in that position.

Indeed, the player himself believes he is at his best when he is the first player to receive the ball from the defence.

While Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic have departed following the end of their contracts, there are a number of other options that Ten Hag will have to play in that midfield.

Unlikely stalwarts Fred and Scott McTominay are still knocking about - and with neither a sold defensive midfielder, they could benefit from having some control further behind them - while reports suggest Ten Hag is willing to give Andreas Pereira another chance.

90min understands James Garner is likely to return to Nottingham Forest following his impressive loan last season, but Bruno Fernandes could also play deeper if Ten Hag wants to throw as many attack-minded players into his selection as possible.

A lot of eyes will be on Donny van de Beek, who worked with Ten Hag in the Netherlands, following his loan spell at Everton. If he can't get into the United team now then it may just never happen.

De Jong also briefly played as a centre-back in a back-five at Ajax, bringing the ball out from the back and starting attacks. This job is now effectively asked of all 'number sixes'.

Possible lineups:

De Jong (DM) - Fred (CM) - McTominay (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Fred (CM) - Fernandes (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Fred (CM) - Pereira (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Fred (CM) - Van de Been (CM)

De Jong (DM) - McTominay (CM) - Fernandes (CM)

De Jong (DM) - McTominay (CM) - Pereira (CM)

De Jong (DM) - McTominay (CM) - Van de Beek (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Fernandes (CM) - Pereira (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Fernandes (CM) - Van de Beek (CM)

De Jong (DM) - Van de Beek (CM) - Pereira (CM)

De Jong as an interior

While De Jong brings obvious qualities as a 'number six', United could benefit from his playing as a 'number eight' instead, with one of Fred or McTominay reverting to their role as the sitting midfielder to provide more physicality (shudders) or another 'six' being signed.

The Dutchman's defensive stats haven't been great at Barcelona and he is rather lightweight - if Ten Hag can't perfect his philosophy of having near-total possession then De Jong will suffer with the Premier League's physical standards as a holding midfielder.

Having an extra security blanket behind him could be sensible, while this would also allow De Jong to fill the ball-carrying hole left by Pogba.

Possible lineups:

McTominay (DM) - De Jong (CM) - Fred (CM)

McTominay (DM) - De Jong (CM) - Fernandes (CM)

McTominay (DM) - De Jong (CM) - Van de Beek (CM)

Fred (DM) - De Jong (CM) - McTominay (CM)

Fred (DM) - De Jong (CM) - Fernandes (CM)

Fred (DM) - De Jong (CM) - Van de Beek (CM)

Listen now to 90min's brand new podcast, Talking Transfers, with Scott SaundersGraeme Bailey & Toby Cudworth. This week Harry Symeou steps in for Scott and the trio discuss the futures of Bukayo Saka, Rafael Leao, Romelu Lukaku, Kalvin Phillips, Youri Tielemans, Oleksandr Zinchenko, Raphinha, Gabriel Jesus and more.

De Jong in a double pivot

The 4-2-3-1 formation has often been the bane of Man Utd's progress in recent years, largely because they've scarcely had suitable players to succeed with it.

But with De Jong potentially arriving, Ten Hag could have two solid options to sit at the midfield base of such a formation.

Possible lineups:

De Jong (DM) - Fred (DM)

De Jong (DM) - McTominay (DM)

De Jong (DM) - Pereira (DM)

De Jong (DM) - Van de Beek (DM)