Occasionally silly season throws up a day or two in which a flurry of possibilities all seem to emerge at once. In the last 24 hours, Andre Onana, Mason Mount, and Moises Caicedo have all been reported to have taken significant steps closer to moves to Manchester United.
As reported by The Peoples Person, a meeting is set to take place for the Inter Milan goalkeeper this week, with a deal worth around £45m looking likely. Meanwhile, direct talks with Chelsea are due in the day or two as United look to clinch their academy graduate for £55m. As if the week wasn’t busy enough, talks have been opened for £80m-rated Caicedo, with a formal approach expected next week.
But what would Man United be getting for their £180m-odd splurge? Here we take a look at the unorthodox eleven Erik ten Hag could be building towards. It is especially interesting considering there is not a penny accounted for towards a centre forward for the starting eleven.
A central pairing of Fernandes and Mount ahead of central midfield may look strange, but it could evoke memories of the relentless harassment of the partnership between Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez during one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s most successful spells at United.
Pity the side that escapes that line of pressure only to be met with the ball-winning excellence that a platform of Caicedo and Casemiro would provide. Put simply, this unorthodox set up would be the end of the squishy centre that has often allowed opponents to waltz through Man United’s midfield.
In possession, the Mount/Bruno duo would naturally lack the imposing strength and flair of the |Rooney/Tevez pairing, but their creative passing and combination play would be something to behold.
That would be doubly true when the pair came deep to complete a midfield box – an in-vogue element in modern possession structures – with the South American double pivot. Casemiro and Caicedo are no slouches when it comes to line breaking passes themselves and, in the case of the Ecuadorian, a surge through the middle of the pitch could disorganise an opponent’s press.
With a rock-solid backline behind them, there would be plenty of room for rotational movement from the front six – something a goalkeeper with Andre Onana’s eye for a pass could thrive on. The Cameroonian is excellent at holding onto the ball to draw pressure from the opposition in order to free up space for players further up the pitch before finding them in dangerous pockets.
This is something Roberto de Zerbi’s Brighton side did to great effect with Jason Steele last season, and those who witnessed Onana’s performances in the Champions League last season will no doubt wonder how effective a sweeper keeper of such quality could be in the Premier League in such a set up.
As with any strikerless set up, the big question will be over where the goals come from. Off the back of a 30-haul season, Marcus Rashford is the natural candidate here. But with Antony a high-volume shooter, Ten Hag will certainly be hoping that the Brazilian’s tally sees a marked improvement upon his 8-goal return last term.
With Bruno Fernandes and Mason Mount both hitting double figures in two of their last three campaigns, there is potential to spread some of the scoring around, particularly if Caicedo’s defensive instincts were to give Casemiro more license to roam forward and build upon last campaign’s surprising effectiveness in the penalty area.
Off the bench, Jadon Sancho and Alejandro Garnacho would also be expected to chip in, while midfield options Christian Eriksen and Fred could come on to provide even more creativity or energy on a game-by-game basis. Martial also remains as a (solitary) choice should a striker be desired…
Surely the club will get around to bidding for a number nine at some point? In some ways, this little thought experiment underlines just how difficult the centre forward market is this summer. Even if United were to spend big on a striker, it would not guarantee a considerable improvement upon the line up suggested above, such is the premium on the position at present. The reported £86m price tag slapped on Rasmus Hojlund is perhaps the most obvious example of that, with even developmental additions being priced as marquee signings.
However Manchester United’s budget ends up being spent, it is well worth remembering that Erik ten Hag is a flexible coach, quite unlike many of his Dutch colleagues. He may not go with the outlandish 4-2-4-0 proposed here, but there are bound to be some surprises in his set up come August. He may well even surprise himself.
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