Erik ten Hag could revive Ajax midfield plan for Frenkie de Jong and Donny van de Beek

Manchester United boss could be tempted to revive his Ajax midfield plan if a deal for Frenkie de Jong is completed.

The Red Devils’ lengthy pursuit of the Netherlands international is reportedly drawing to a close, with Barcelona accepting a £56million deal with add-ons included. United have also acted quickly to beat competition from Lyon for a £12.9m move for Feyenoord full-back Tyrell Malacia.

Erik ten Hag was said to be keen to prioritise a new midfielder this summer, with the club’s options in the centre of the pitch frequently drawing criticism in recent seasons. Fred and Scott McTominay have often been used as a double pivot, but the ‘McFred’ partnership has been the subject of sustained scrutiny during United’s recent struggles.

Ten Hag looks set to be rewarded for his perseverance with the arrival of top target de Jong, despite concerns the former Ajax star would have preferred to ‘continue’ at Barcelona. The 25-year-old has struggled to consistently showcase his best form since making the move to the Camp Nou in the summer of 2019.

De Jong will be reunited with his former manager as well as his midfield partner Donny van de Beek, who has struggled to make an impact at Old Trafford. The pair rose to prominence during Ajax’s sensational run to the Champions League semi-final in 2019, where they lost to Tottenham in dramatic circumstances.

The Dutch giants also completed domestic double that season, and inevitably saw a host of their stars included de Jong prise away by Europe’s elite. Ten Hag was rewarded for a tactical tweak which saw Ajax bring the best out of the partnership between de Jong and van de Beek.

Frenkie de Jong played alongside Donny van de Beek at Ajax

Frenkie de Jong played alongside Donny van de Beek at Ajax
Cees van Hoogdalem/Getty Images)

HAVE YOUR SAY! Could the signing of Frenkie de Jong revive Donny van de Beek’s Manchester United career? Comment below!

Ajax moved away from the famed 4-3-3 formation to allow for a double pivot, with Danish international Lasse Schone pushed into a more advance role. It was a decision ten Hag discussed at length in an interview at the end of the 2018/19 season.

He told the Dutch Soccer Site in July 2019: “Take Frenkie de Jong. We have really been looking to find ways to use his skills in the best manner. Where can he play best, for the team and to showcase his talent.

“Everyone was screaming: Frenkie is the biggest talent, etc etc. Well yes. But, where? In midfield? Ok, but which role? His quality is that he makes the forwards perform better.

“He is a wanderer, an adventurer, he’s always on the move, like a shark. With the ball, often, but also without the ball. So if you put him on 6, he’s away too often. But you need to give him freedom, otherwise you can’t the best out of him.

“It wasn’t an easy puzzle, so I deduced to play with two number 6s and only one attacking mid. And in this way, we can also dominate the half space, and force opponents to choose.

“So on the first day of pre-season, that is how we started. And we started without Frenkie, by the way, as he wasn’t fit at the start of the pre-season.”

Ajax managed to fend off the challenge of rivals PSV Eindhoven to lift the Eredivisie title, and thrashed de Jong’s former side Willem II in the KNVB Cup final. Matthijs de Ligt and Dusan Tadic were among the other stars to shine during the campaign, and ten Hag expressed his delight at seeing the midfield plan pay off.

The new United boss added: “This goes to show that plans are just plans, the reality needs to want it as well. And in reality, Donny is also a player who likes to be on the move. For both Donny and Frenkie it is a strength.”

Van de Beek has endured a nightmare spell at United so far, and found opportunities under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer few and far between. The Netherlands international spent the second-half of last season on loan at Everton, but again struggled to show his best form.

However, many expect the appointment of ten Hag to kickstart the 25-year-old’s stuttering United career to date. If a deal for de Jong is completed in the coming days, the Red Devils already have the perfect template to reinvigorate a much-maligned midfield.

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