One of the biggest tasks for Erik ten Hag at Manchester United will be improving the club’s midfield. Paul Pogba is set to leave on a free transfer, while Nemanja Matic has already made his last appearance at Old Trafford. But while the Red Devils are being linked with a plethora of players, they can actually improve their existing set-up without spending a penny.
When Ten Hag takes charge of United, he’s likely to play with three in midfield.
That’s what he’s done throughout the majority of his time at Ajax, with the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek, Ryan Gravenberch, Kenneth Taylor, Davy Klaassen and Edson Alvarez all key players for him during his time in Amsterdam.
While Ten Hag is a flexible coach, this appears to be his preferred set-up.
And, in Van de Beek, James Garner and Bruno Fernandes, the Dutchman can build a midfield to be reckoned with without any investment required.
This summer, United need to spend big in many areas.
They need a centre-back to go alongside Raphael Varane, with the likes of Harry Maguire, Eric Bailly, Victor Lindelof and Phil Jones not up to scratch.
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He’s not exactly set the world alight at Goodison Park, either, with the Toffees struggling to avoid relegation.
Yet Van de Beek, on his day, can be a huge asset.
He was outstanding at Ajax, with his performances in the Champions League particularly eye-catching.
Ten Hag will know how to get the best from the 25-year-old due to their close relationship in Amsterdam.
And if United can get Van de Beek back to the player he was at Ajax, their £40million investment won’t look like money down the drain.
Next to him in a midfield pivot could go James Garner.
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Out of all the players out on loan over at Old Trafford, it’s the Nottingham Forest star who has made the biggest impact.
Garner has taken the Championship by storm, scoring four goals and registering eight assists.
And the 21-year-old, who has previously been likened to Michael Carrick, has managed five goal involvements from his last 10 matches.
Garner has a touch of class about him in the middle of the park.
And given he’s due to return to United, Ten Hag could be tempted to unleash him right from the start.
Then, playing further ahead of Garner and Van de Beek, can go Fernandes.
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The Portugal international’s form has dropped off this term, after 18 months of outstanding displays under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Yet Fernandes, after a summer of rest, can return to Old Trafford as a player transformed.
United gave him a new contract recently because they know that, when fully fit and firing, he’s one of the best attacking midfielders on the planet.
And Fernandes, under Ten Hag, could become a different animal entirely.
United would still need some squad players to help ease the burden on Van de Beek, Fernandes and Garner.
But it would certainly be an exciting midfield with promising signs for the future.