OPINION: Erik ten Hag has to answer these ten questions upon his arrival in Manchester
1️⃣ Who is the number one going forward?
Manchester United house two goalkeepers in the shape of David De Gea and Dean Henderson who combined reportedly earn close to £500k a week. Both goalkeepers were rewarded with new deals under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer when it appeared that Henderson would be the heir to De Gea’s throne. Today, however, that does not appear to be as straightforward, with the Spaniard rediscovering his form and cementing his place in the team. De Gea’s current contract expires in the summer of 2023 so Erik ten Hag must decide who to keep and who to offload if he is to shed the already bloated wage budget at United.
2️⃣ Is Harry Maguire to remain as captain?
The much talked about captaincy debate at Manchester United will no doubt rage on until Ten Hag takes over the reins and addresses the armband issue. Harry Maguire has had a below par season, receiving criticism from all quarters, with many arguing that the weight of the captaincy is too much for the former Leicester City man. With characters like Cristiano Ronaldo and Bruno Fernandes lurking in the background, Ten Hag will have to draw a line under this on day one.
3️⃣ Would a 3/5 at the back formation work best?
Ten Hag is known for playing either a 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 formation at Ajax, but he was not against altering his beliefs to suit his squad. Whether Maguire remains as captain or not, it is highly unlikely he will be sold soon and given his impressive performances in a three-at-the-back for England, this could be an option worth exploring. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has clear deficiencies going forward but could possibly be retrained as a right centre-back. On the other wing, both Alex Telles and Luke Shaw look far more adept going forward than they do tracking back, so maybe they should be relieved of their defensive chores? It’s most certainly a conversation worth having.
4️⃣ Is James Garner ready?
United’s midfield needs to be reshaped and with youngster James Garner returning from an impressive loan spell at Championship side Nottingham Forrest, Ten Hag will need to decide if the academy product is ready for the first team. With Nemanja Matic on his way out and Paul Pogba expected to follow suit, there will be space in the midfield unit for Garner, but the question is whether or not he requires more experience at Premier League level.
5️⃣ Can Donny Van de Beek replace Paul Pogba?
As mentioned, Paul Pogba is set to leave Old Trafford this summer, whilst Ten Hag favourite Donny Van de Beek will be coming back from his rather unsuccessful loan at Everton to reunite with his former Ajax boss. Can the Dutch midfielder finally launch his Manchester United career under his fellow countryman, or will Ten Hag seek out an external replacement instead? This needs to be resolved one way or another.
6️⃣ Is a new right-sided winger a priority?
At Ajax, Ten Hag liked to play with inverted wingers and got the very best out of Antony, a young right-sided attacker who would cut in onto his stronger left foot. As it stands in the current United squad, there are no players who play this role given that Jadon Sancho, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Elanga are all naturally right footed. Amad Diallo could fill this void, but the 19-year-old has failed to impress on loan at Rangers. Given this is a pivotal cog in Ten Hag’s machine, this position may be a high priority on his summer shopping list.
7️⃣ Who is United’s best left winger?
When Jadon Sancho arrived at Old Trafford, he was seen as the missing piece of the puzzle on the right wing, with England colleague Marcus Rashford occupying that space on the left. However, as the season has progressed, Sancho has looked far more dangerous coming in off the left whilst Rashford has endured arguably his worst season at United. Under Ralf Rangnick, we have seen the pair alternate between wings in-game, much to the frustration of fans who want to see Sancho maintain his place on the left. Whilst versatility is key in today’s game, Ten Hag will need to shut down this flip-flopping approach if he is to get the best out of both of his stars.
8️⃣ Can Cristiano Ronaldo play as a false 9?
One element of Ten Hag’s tactical style during his time at Ajax has been the use of both a classic number nine, and also a false nine, with the latter more so seen in European games. Assuming Cristiano Ronaldo stays on for another season, Ten Hag will have to decipher if he is to work on adapting the 37-year-old to the false nine system when necessary, or if that is simply not an option.
9️⃣ Is Bruno Fernandes a 10 or an 8?
Bruno Fernandes recently signed a new long-term contract with United so he will have to be a part of Ten Hag’s plans moving forward whether the new manager likes it or not. Under Solskjaer, Fernandes operated as a number ten, working behind the striker. The Portugese midfielder is however more than capable of playing a little deeper in midfield as a traditional number eight. Ten Hag will have to decide if he needs to rebrand Bruno to fit his 4-3-3 setup or instead shape the team to accommodate the former Sporting Lisbon captain in his more comfortable role.
🔟 Who deserves a new deal?
So much has been talked about the likes of Jesse Lingard, Paul Pogba and Juan Mata all leaving when their contracts expire this summer, but Ten Hag will have to concern himself more with the summer of 2023. Putting any options to extend aside for a moment, the current deals for Cristiano Ronaldo, David De Gea, Luke Shaw, Fred, Diogo Dalot and Marcus Rashford are all set to expire next June. Who, if any, are deserving of new deals? That’s for Ten Hag to figure out, meanwhile those who aren’t will need to be sold by the end of January 2023 to avoid being let go for free. This will be an integral part of Ten Hag’s early decisions as he looks to build a squad for the future.