Manchester United have struggled this summer to really get the ball rolling under new tactician and former AFC Ajax manager Erik ten Hag after the talented Dutchman called time on a very impressive stint with the Eredivisie giants.
United is fresh off a very disappointing 2021-22 Premier League season after the Red Devils slid down the table and could only muster a sixth-place finish despite finishing runner-up the season before under the much-maligned Ole Gunnar Solskjær, with Ralf Rangnick hardly doing his one highly-touted reputation any favours as United failed to make good on their impressive on-paper spending last summer.
The club certainly has a lot of work to put behind the disappointment that was last season after United splashed out roughly £120million on Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphaël Varane, and their desire to bring in Dutch international Frenkie de Jong to reunite the midfielder with his former boss at Ajax has been met with optimism from the fanbase despite the relative failure of last summer.
Ten Hag will start pre-season training with #mufc on Monday with 0 new players in his squad.
— UtdXclusive (@UtdXclusive) June 23, 2022
But United has struggled to get a deal over the line for the 25-year-old Barcelona man at the time of writing, their recent bid was rebuffed by the Catalan outfit, though they are expected to return in order for Ten Hag to get his man in the door with time to spare.
Should Ten Hag fail to bring his man in the door at Old Trafford for one reason or another, United could well have to survey other options with which to reinforce a now thin midfield after both Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matić left this summer on free deals.
Here are five alternative midfield options that Manchester United could consider in place of Frenkie de Jong
Youri Tielemans (Leicester City)
Long connected with a possible summer move to Premier League rivals Arsenal, Belgian international Youri Tielemans has made quite a name for himself during a three-and-a-half-year spell at the King Power Stadium where he has moulded himself into one of the premier central midfielders in England.
Blessed with a dangerous right foot both in terms of his ability to be creative in an 8 role under Brendan Rodgers, and a serious goal threat from outside the box, Tielemans bagged 6-goals and 4-assists for the Foxes last season in the Premier League that offered plenty of evidence to suggest that he may have finally outgrown the Foxes.
Jacob Ramsey (Aston Villa)
England youth international Jacob Ramsey had a break-out season under Steven Gerrard at Aston Villa his past season as the 21-year-old Birmingham-native rose to prominence at Villa Park and became one of the first names on the teamsheet for the Villains after he made 34-appearances in 2021-22 while bagging 6-goals, forming a very good understanding with Philippe Coutinho after the arrival of the Brazilian international.
A serious goal threat from the middle of the park, what Ramsey lacks in creativity he makes up for with excellent spatial awareness and strength in combination play that was so often evident for Villa in the final third. He may not be the big name United fans would want, but his potential speaks for itself.
Fabián Ruíz (SSC Napoli)
Another midfielder linked with Arsenal this summer, Spanish international Fabián Ruíz has quietly been one of the key catalysts at SSC Napoli over the last four seasons but is coming off a 2021-22 where he hit a career-high for goals in a season (7) while still remaining creative all the same.
Capable at both ends of the pitch in being a key creative outlet while also being highly adept in a press, Ruíz could present a relatively high-profile midfielder that could potentially settle well under Ten Hag’s expected system at United that is likely to mirror how Ajax operated under his command. With United currently lacking a central option that can consistently contribute at both ends of the pitch, Ruíz could fit the bill.
Khéphren Thuram (OGC Nice)
A far more unknown option to most fans in England, French youth international Khéphren Thuram – son of legendary French defender Lillian Thuram – has risen to prominence at Ligue 1 outfit OGC Nice in the last two years after coming through the youth ranks at AS Monaco, and his 36-appearances in the league last season shows he is trusted by manager Christophe Galtier while showing himself capable of contributing in an attacking frame despite technically being a holding midfielder.
Thuram still chipped in with 4 goals and 3 assists in 2021-22, and though he is also a capable passer, his ability to progress play while on the ball shows he has so much more value to a midfield than just being a talented ball-winner.
Mattéo Guendouzi (Olympique de Marseille)
Arsenal fans will hardly enjoy the thought of former midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi making the list, but the fact is that the French international has exploded since finding his footing at Olympique de Marseille in the past two seasons and is now one of the most coveted young central players in France. Guendouzi was one of Jorge Sampaoli’s most trusted players this past season as OM finished two points ahead of Monaco for second place, earning a return to the Champions League next season.
Despite having the likes of Dmitri Payet ahead of him further up the pitch, Guendouzi has become an incredibly progressive midfielder both with his ability to pick a pass but also drive play when all the ball; something Arsenal fans got a glimpse of but now OM has massively benefitted from as he has developed. He still struggles in certain defensive metrics, but Guendouzi certainly merits a place here.
How they stack up
Utilizing FBRef to collate comparative data points between all six midfielders in question, findings show that – despite contextualizing certain aspects across all players involved – that Frenkie de Jong could perhaps be more readily replaced on the wanted list at Old Trafford than some may have thought.
De Jong may be a highly-coveted and unquestionably gifted midfielder, but it stands to note that United could potentially have a cadre of backup options to turn to should they somehow fail to secure their prime transfer target this summer.
This article was edited by Ben Browning.