Frenkie de Jong has already told Manchester United his favourite position

 

Frenkie de Jong of FC Barcelona waves his hand prior to the La Liga Santander match between Levante UD and FC Barcelona at Ciutat de Valencia stadium, April 10, 2022, Valencia, Spain.

It seems like only a matter of time before Manchester United finally sign Frenkie de Jong. Both United and Barcelona are confident of a deal being completed in the near future and sources say it is a matter of "when, not if" the deal is finalised.

United have been keen not to rush into a deal as they look to renew their reputation as tough negotiators in the summer transfer window, and it seems like patience might well pay off in their pursuit of De Jong.

No matter when De Jong arrives, the first task will be the same. Erik ten Hag must make his former Ajax ace feel loved at Old Trafford and get to work on building a team around his special talent while also utilising the players already at his disposal.

Ten Hag already knows how to get the best out of the 25-year-old and, earlier this month, De Jong himself reiterated his own preference for being given the freedom to drop deep and collect the ball from defenders.

“Here in the national team, I have a position that suits me better. I like to be the first player to receive the ball from defenders. I play in a different way in the national team compared to Barca," he said.

Of course, it will be down to Ten Hag to utilise the Dutch international as he sees fit, but it is interesting to hear De Jong speak so openly about his preferred style of play.

If he is to settle well at United, then it is crucial that De Jong is granted such freedom to drop back and orchestrate moves from deep, something which will rely on the goalkeeper and centre-backs getting the ball to him quickly and effectively.

United have struggled to nail playing out from the back in recent years, but that has been mainly due to poor distribution from David de Gea in goal and wayward passing from holding midfielders rather than calamitous centre-backs.

In regard to the central defenders, it shouldn't actually be too much of a problem. Of the players who featured in at least five Premier League matches for the club last season, Raphael Varane sat third on the list for highest passing accuracy with 87.84 per cent and Victor Lindelof was fourth with 87.74. Harry Maguire sat in sixth with 86.37.

But there remains a genuine concern around the goalkeeper situation, with De Gea set to start the season as the No.1 choice and Dean Henderson due to complete his loan move to Nottingham Forest imminently.

De Gea remains one of the finest shot-stoppers in world football, but so often he is forced to rectify his initial poor distribution by producing an improbably save to make up for it.

In March, research suggested the Spaniard had the worst distribution among all goalkeepers in Europe's top five leagues that had played over 500 minutes.

It is going to be fascinating to see how Ten Hag works with De Gea to overcome such an obstacle, and the answer might well be to minimise his reliance on starting moves from the back through short and safe passes rather than look to revolutionise his game.

The midfield issue could be resolved by the arrival of De Jong in itself, and his passing ability would allow United to have a greater grip on matches next season as a result, which in turn should leave them far less susceptible to being punished on the counter-attack.

De Jong has already made it clear how he wants to fit in should he move to Old Trafford. Now Ten Hag needs to find a way to make it work.

 

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