New Manchester United manager, Erik ten Hag, has been linked with more than a few possible recruits as he begins the formidable task of restoring the Old Trafford club to greatness.
Should those three signal the start of the Ten Hag era, how would they slot in amongst the current group of under-performing United stars? Who makes the cut and whose position is under threat? Let’s take a look.
Goalkeeper – David de Gea. One of the few players to come out of last season’s horror show with any credit, Big Dave has earned the right to impress the new boss. Question marks remain about his ability to play behind a high line, but his shot-stopping and reliability keep him ahead of the more proactive Dean Henderson, who appears more likely to leave than challenge for the gloves.
Right back – Jurrien Timber. Although he’s played mostly at centre-back for Ajax, the young defender has the pace and technical ability to make the RB slot his own in the short-term. With Raphael Varane struggling with injuries, and Harry Maguire out of form, Timber would probably get opportunities to impress centrally. If so, Diogo Dalot is likely to deputise, with Aaron Wan-Bissaka said to be available for transfer.
Left back – Luke Shaw. One of a few players who should have a major point to prove. At his effervescent best, he’s one of the best full-backs in Europe and deserves a chance to regain his previous form.
Centre back – Harry Maguire. For Maguire, see Shaw. Had an abysmal season but might he be one of many hoping for rehabilitation under a new coach? Could struggle in a high defensive line but deserves a chance to prove that last season was a one-off low. If, however, his poor form continues, Timber is on-hand take his spot.
Centre back – Raphael Varane. Another quality player who seemed to get sucked into last season’s whirlpool of mediocrity. The Frenchman needs to stay fit and establish an understanding with Maguire. Has the quality and experience to turn it around, so hopefully his physical fragility won’t hold him back.
DM – Frenkie de Jong. The kind of defensive midfielder United have lacked since the excellent Michael Carrick retired. Reads the game well, is press-resistant and keeps the game ticking over. A quality player with something to prove.
CM – Fred. The Brazilian rose above a rising tide of awfulness on all sides to enjoy perhaps his best season in a red shirt. Tigerish, energetic and committed, Fred is an easy pick among limited options.
CM – Bruno Fernandes. Another under-performer who has earned the chance to write last season off. He’ll need to reign in the profligacy and might even be used as a creative wide man, a la Dusan Tadic.
However, it’s more likely the Portuguese will get a chance to bring his energy and effectiveness to the No.8 role. If so, he’ll need to unearth a positional discipline that wasn’t there under the seemingly laissez-faire Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Fernandes has a lot to prove.
LW – Marcus Rashford. The former golden boy has barely performed for almost 18 months and desperately needs a fresh start. If Ten Hag sticks to past form and insists on using a high-pressing front three, Rashford could find himself battling with the willing Anthony Elanga for game time. He’ll need to hit the ground running to win over the growing army of doubters.
CF – Darwin Nunez. A high-octane runner with an impressive goal scoring record, the Uruguayan would appear to be the perfect fit up front. At 22, he’s got the energy and physicality to limit the waning Cristiano Ronaldo to a supporting role of rotation option or impact sub. While only a fool would write Ronaldo off, Nunez would appear to represent the future more than the slightly faded recent past.
RF – Jadon Sancho. There’s an argument that playing Sancho anywhere other than the left limits his abundant gifts. However, the former Dortmund man is the only available attacker who has shown any ability on the right, so gets the nod. Ten Hag will be desperate to unlock the huge potential that compelled United to spend big on the talented wide man.
Fans hoping for a revolution are almost definitely going to end up disappointed. Even with three quality additions, there are still major question marks over key positions.
However, much will depend on the new manager’s ability to tease improved performances out of the likes of Shaw, Maguire, Varane, Fernandes, Rashford and Sancho. If he can tap into that potential, there’s a much better collection of players than last season showed. A sprinkling of class and reinvigorated squad could mark a major step towards the Reds’ next top side.