No one is concerned now, but things looked bleak for Manchester United earlier this summer.
Fans were eager to put the horrors of the past behind them and fully embrace Erik ten Hag’s revolution. But June passed without a single new addition to a squad in desperate need of a makeover. When the first signing, a reserve left-back, was made, it didn’t inspire much confidence.
Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez were more like it, but then the season began, and any lingering optimism was extinguished. A loss to Brighton was followed by a 4-0 thrashing by Brentford. All of the promises of pre-season, all of the development, all of the hope, have been shattered. Ten Hag’s powerlessness made it difficult to understand how he could possibly turn United around.
Six months later, that’s exactly what he’s done. The Dutchman’s three simple measures to get United moving ahead of schedule have been returning to basics, teaching discipline, and restoring confidence, but those two defeats were the best thing that could have happened.
The undeniable proof that the team wasn’t good enough pushed United to return to the transfer market and do some significant business before the deadline. Antony and the genuine change agent, Casemiro, arrived.
For years, United had been looking for a world-class defensive midfielder, and in Casemiro, they landed one of, if not the, greatest in the world. Everyone knew how good he was at winning possession and using the ball to move his team up the field, but he has surprised everyone with how much more he has to offer.
Casemiro has amazed me with his sharp, defense-splitting passes and has been a force in front of the goal for a decade. The Brazilian is the season’s most important signing and United’s most valuable player.
Ten Hag’s real goal, however, was not him. Frenkie de Jong was given the honor.
United spent most of the summer pursuing De Jong. Talks were held in Europe, fees were agreed upon, and both teams were eager for the agreement to go through. De Jong, on the other hand, did not. It was the Dutchman’s dream to play for Barcelona, and he wasn’t going to let it go no matter how hard his club tried to get rid of him so they could replenish their coffers for another extravagant spending spree.
United eventually gave up the ghost, and everything worked out perfectly. Casemiro was brought in, and he has completely altered the team. De Jong, for his part, has had a terrific season as well, remaining a starter for Xavi with Barcelona leading La Liga.
The two midfielders will face a battle against each other in the Europa League on Thursday when United and Barcelona meet. It promises to be an exciting match as two of Europe’s heavyweights meet in the minor leagues. Two titans attempting to reclaim their rightful place. One is much further along in their project, while the other is just getting started.
Midfield will undoubtedly be a key battle, and whoever gains the upper hand between Casemiro and De Jong could decide the game. It will be interesting to see how De Jong performs, as a strong performance may persuade Ten Hag to target him again.
While Casemiro and Eriksen have been excellent, they are both in their 30s and cannot be relied on indefinitely. The Dane’s lengthy injury absence attests to this. The club’s backup isn’t good enough, which United apparently agrees with considering how quickly they brought in Marcel Sabitzer after learning how long Eriksen would be out.
Another high-quality choice is required, and who is better than De Jong? United are now a far more appealing offer as a result of Ten Hag’s efforts, and if they return to the Champions League, they will have everything a player could desire. Barcelona will most certainly still require funds, and another summer of being told to go may persuade him to do so.
De Jong could be Ten Hag’s main aim again this summer, and the impending tie could influence his decision.