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Manchester United’s Rebuild – Recruitment Analysis

For nine years, Manchester United have stumbled in the Premier League and unsuccessfully attempted to overcome the trauma of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013. The stability and success that the Scottish manager, who lifted 38 titles in his 26 years at the club, brought to the Red Devils, left Old Trafford with him. Over the last decade, United have drifted away from the English and European elite to where Ferguson had securely returned them after years of trying but failing to live up to the legacy of Sir Matt Busby. A lost identity, sporting failures, battles in their dressing room, millionaire signings with dubious performances and under-fire coaches in the dugout has become the norm at the club. The Red Devils have now failed to win a title since 2017 when Jose Mourinho guided them to the 2016/17 Europa League title, beating Ajax 2-0 in Solna.

Erik ten Hag was managing Utrecht at the time of Manchester United’s Europa League win but his reputation and experience have grown immensely since then. He now has the tough job of rebuilding a Red Devils team that tends to self-destruct. “At Ajax, he has proved to be one of the most exciting and successful coaches in Europe, renowned for his team’s attractive attacking football and his commitment to young players,” said John Murtough, the club’s director of football. The Dutchman, who signs until 2025 with an option for a further season, will have to turn around a United side whose crisis has become chronic.

The United job is a coach crusher. Since Ferguson’s departure, the Red Devils have had four permanent first-team managers, not including the current interim boss Ralf Rangnick or caretaker bosses Ryan Giggs (who was in charge for four games following David Moyes’ departure) or Michael Carrick (who was in the dugout for three games following Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s sacking earlier this season). Now, step up Ten Hag, who in his four and a half seasons at Ajax, has won three Eredivisie titles, two KNVB Cups and a Johan Cruyff Shield. Can he end United’s trophy drought and add to another historic club’s imposing trophy cabinet? In this tactical analysis, we will take a closer look at how ten Hag could line up next season.

Current Squad

With David De Gea and Dean Henderson, Manchester United have two brilliant goalkeepers in their squad. This position is probably the only one where no changes will be needed in the coming years, in our view.  

In the left-back position, Alex Telles’ performances were rather disappointing so far and Luke Shaw is the regular starter. Telles’ future is not 100% clear yet. However, he fits the playing style of Ten Hag and therefore might be a good backup option for Shaw.

In the right-back position, Manchester United will need a new player for their starting XI. While Diogo Dalot is a player Ten Hag can develop, Wan-Bissaka’s time at Manchester United is likely to end after this season. He is not the technically gifted and well-rounded option Ten Hag needs in that position.

Raphaël Varane, Victor Lindelöf and Harry Maguire are likely to stay at the club, while Phil Jones and Eric Bailly can probably leave. Ten Hag plays with a high defensive line and therefore, he will need centre-backs who are comfortable on the ball, playing progressive passes while being robust. 

In central midfield, we need to separate the defensive position (6) and the more advanced position (8) in Ten Hag’s 4-3-3 formation. With Nemanja Matic leaving the club and Fred, who is rather a number 8, Scott McTominay is perhaps the only number 6 in the current squad, though he too may be better suited as an 8 and in any event, isn’t at this moment the profile of holding midfielder that the club needs. In this position, Manchester United will look for a player who is heavily involved in the build-up, plays progressive passes and provides progressive dribbles. However, since the two number 8s in Ten Hag’s system are creative too, the number 6 will need to cover them. Interceptions and recoveries are needed. 

With Paul Pogba, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard leaving at the end of the season, Bruno Fernandes, Fred and young talent Hannibal Mejbri are left in the position of a number 8. In this position, creativity is needed. Therefore, Manchester United will consider an advanced playmaker or box-to-box midfielder who can assist the front three with through passes and is capable of progressive dribbles.

Manchester United has two outstanding wingers with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Marcus Rashford. Adding to that, they have Anthony Elanga and Shola Shoretire — two talents who can improve under Ten Hag. 

Edinson Cavani will leave the club this summer while Cristiano Ronaldo’s future is not clear yet. Therefore, Manchester United will need a new forward: a mobile striker. This means they look for a player who can take advantage of through balls played by the creative midfielders but is also technically gifted to assist the wingers.

Rangnick, who will move into a consultancy role at the end of the season, outlined the changes to come in a dressing room that has been ‘shaken’ by the captaincy battle between Harry Maguire and Cristiano Ronaldo.

We will see what happens with Donny van de Beek, on loan at Everton, who shot to stardom under Ten Hag at Ajax, as well as all of Manchester United’s other loan players.

So, to conclude, we will focus on the following positions and player profiles in our recruitment analysis. We consider players from the top 5 leagues (Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and France), Eredivisie in the Netherlands and Liga Bwin in Portugal. 


As already said, we will look at ball-playing defenders, who provide lots of progressive passes and offensive actions. Ball-playing defenders tend to play a high number of short-range passes to teammates as well as low-tempo actions in build-up play. Those characteristics are often complemented by a moderate level of engagement in tackles. Fulfilling these criteria is frequently achieved by defenders performing a moderate amount of actions in a high defensive line and fewer interceptions than other types of defenders.

Pau Torres ranks in the 91st percentile in terms of progressive passes (4.40 per 90) and progressive carries (4.74). Adding to that, he is the centre-back with the most dribbles (0.79) per 90 from the top-five leagues. The Spaniard is also one of the most dangerous centre-backs in front of the opposition’s goal. He might be an ideal player for build-up play. His defensive stats are not very impressive, however.

Borussia Dortmund’s Manuel Akanji only has one year left on his contract and is likely to leave the German side. He is not as much of a goal threat as Torres but provides more pressures (9.83 per 90) and tackles (1.86 per 90). Akanji ranks in the 93rd percentile in playing passes (75.58 per 90), in the 90th percentile in progressive passes (4.59 per 90) and in the 89th percentile in progressive carries (4.85). All in all, he is a more rounded player than Torres. Akanji combines defensive stability with his ability to build up the game from the back. 

Edmond Tapsoba is not known for his offensive impact. However, he provides lots of short passes(70.39 per 90), progressive runs (3.77 per 90) and dribbles (0.32 per 90). Adding to that, he ranks in the 82nd percentile of interceptions (2.59 per 90) and provides good pressure (10.21 per 90), tackle (1.74 per 90) and block (1.82 per 90) statistics. If United are looking for a player who is outstanding in both build-up and defence, they should go with him. Defensively, he is the best of the three centre-backs we have on our shortlist.


Ten Hag used to play with Noussair Mazraoui at right-back but as he will move to Bayern Munich, he won’t be available for Manchester United. Ten Hag will need another inverted wing-back if he wants to play in his usual style. Inverted wing-backs are primarily involved in creating chances from wide areas as well as frequent involvement in build-up play. Unlike other full-backs, the inverted wing-back registers a high number of underlapping runs and receptions in the halfspace. This type of player does not engage in pressures, tackles, fouls and duels on a regular basis.

Joakim Mæhle ranks in the 89th percentile of shots (1.16 per 90) and non-penalty xG (0.09 per 90). He receives a lot of progressive passes (3.78 per 90) and provides lots of touches in the opponent’s box (2.70 per 90). This means he is highly involved in the final third. The Danish player also provides a high number of successful passes (54.99 passes per 90, 82.5% succession rate) in build-up play. However, since he plays in a back-five at Atalanta Bergamo, he might need lots of time to adapt to a back-4 in Ten Hag’s system.

Tariq Lamptey already plays in the Premier League for Brighton & Hove Albion. The former Chelsea player ranks in the 99th percentile in progressive carries (9.15 per 90), in the 93rd percentile in dribbles (1.63 per 90) and in the 96th percentile in receiving progressive passes (4.43 per 90). The Englishman provides 2.68 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes (88th percentile). Adding to that, he has solid stats in pressures (14.16 per 90), tackles (2.21 per 90) and interceptions (2.10 per 90). His passing success rate of 77.1% must improve to be more involved in the build-up play.

Sergiño Dest might be the perfect fit. The young right-back from FC Barcelona played this role under Ten Hag in Amsterdam previously and he is in the top 10% of all full-backs in the top-five leagues in the following abilities:  non-penalty xG (0.10 per 90), pass completion (87.7%), progressive carries (8.39 per 90), dribbles (2.19 per 90) and touches in the opponent’s box (3.21 per 90). Since he knows Ten Hag’s playing style, he won’t need time to adapt and therefore, he probably is the number one option.

Central Midfield

In central midfield, Manchester United will look for a deep-lying playmaker. Deep-lying playmakers frequently play passes in their own final third as well as into the opposition’s final third. These responsibilities on the ball result in this player making many actions in possession build-up and less involvement from a defensive standpoint. Physical actions and ball-carrying aren’t where the impetus is placed for this player. 

Ibrahim Sangaré is a midfield allrounder who focuses on defensive work. Therefore, he provides outstanding numbers in interceptions (5.82 per 90) and blocks but also in progressive passes (4.93 per 90) and pass accuracy (85.6%). So, he is a player who would fit into the idea of being a real number 6 but still having the ability to be a key player in the build-up play.

Declan Rice might be the first choice since he is young, English and knows the Premier League already. His biggest strengths are progressive carries (6.54 per 90), pass completion (90.3% by playing 59.12 passes per 90) and interceptions (2.74 per 90). Additionally, he is a very flexible player capable of playing as a number 6, a number 8 or even as a centre-back.

Aurélien Tchouaméni is wanted by nearly every top club in Europe. The 22-year-old Frenchman provides the most interceptions (3.55 per 90) amongst all central midfielders in the top-five leagues. On the ball, he plays lots of passes (63.28 per 90) and also progressive passes (5.57 per 90), while also providing a direct goal threat via his shooting tendencies.


With players like Bruno Fernandes in behind, the new Manchester United forward needs to be a Mobile Striker. Mobile Strikers tend to register a high amount of offensive actions including receiving the ball, dribbling in the final third and shooting from inside the box. This type of striker also receives possession in the halfspace regularly. They tend to not be involved in defensive actions such as pressures, tackles, fouls or duels.

Darwin Núñez was one of the shooting stars in the 2021/22 campaign. He completes 1.61 dribbles per 90 and 5.42 progressive carries per 90. He ranks in the 96th percentile in terms of non-penalty goals scored (0.73 per 90) and in the 79th percentile in terms of ball touches in the opponent’s box (6.16 per 90).

This year, Moussa Dembélé has enjoyed his most fruitful season for Olympique Lyon so far. The Frenchman played in the Premier League previously, with Fulham, and ranks in the 84th percentile in ball touches in the opponent’s box (6.72 per 90) — receiving an average of 8.41 progressive passes per 90 minutes (74th percentile). He is a real goal threat, ranking in the 96th percentile in non-penalty xG (0.57 per 90) and still has the potential to improve his completion rate of 25.3%.

Jonathan David is known for his pace. He provides 1.17 dribbles per 90 and ranks in the 91st percentile in pass accuracy (79.3%). He would be ideal to assist the wingers like Rashford and Sancho and provides even more pace in the offence. Adding to that, he presses a lot (18.9 pressures per 90) and scores 0.40 non-penalty goals per 90.


Manchester United’s rebuild will take time and most likely longer than one transfer window. However, these positions might be the most important ones in the current squad. Therefore, Rangnick and Manchester United will need to spend a lot of money once again. Our shortlist provides good options for ten Hag’s playing style that he will try to implement at Manchester United as well. 

As centre-back, Edmond Tapsoba should be the first choice. He combines the best defensive statistics with the ability to build up the game. Since he has a long-term contract, Manuel Akanji who has slightly worse statistics might be the player with the best price-performance ratio. Pau Torres has the biggest offensive impact. however, his defensive stability might not meet the level a centre-back in the Premier League needs. Therefore, he is our 3rd option only. 

In the right-back position, Sergiño Dest is the perfect player who already knows ten Hag’s playing style. He is still young but already provides outstanding statistics in the required attributes. Lamptey has great potential and might be a good backup option. Maehle provides all the attributes as well. But since he plays in a back-5 at Atalanta, he might be the 3rd option. 

Declan Rice might be the biggest transfer for Manchester United. The young Englishman is flexible and plays on a world-class level already. His ability to carry the ball, play progressive passes and intercept the opposition’s attacks makes him our 1st choice for the central midfield position. Tchouameni is our 2nd option since he provides the most interceptions and good defensive statistics. He is a player to play behind the offensive-minded number 8s like Bruno Fernandes. Sangaréplays similar to Tchouameni but since he has slightly worse statistics and is 2 years older, he is option number 3. 

In the attack, we would go with Moussa Dembélé. The Frenchman is a player who loves to receive through balls behind the defensive line in the opponent’s box and scores an average of 0.57 non-penalty goals per 90. With Bruno Fernandes in behind, this rate could increase. Nunez is our 2nd option as his goal conversion is outstanding. He is an out-and-out striker focused on receiving the ball in the penalty area to shoot. Jonathan David is ready for his next step. However, he is only our 3rd choice since he lacks in creating shot actions and assists. He also provides fewer touches in the opposition’s box which is a key attribute for forwards in ten Hag’s system.