Why Matthijs De Ligt might be a very good signing for Manchester United

  • De Ligt's composure remains a feature.
  • Ten Hag could help to rediscover his potential.
Netherlands v Türkiye: Quarter-Final - UEFA EURO 2024
Netherlands v Türkiye: Quarter-Final - UEFA EURO 2024 / BSR Agency/GettyImages

Manchester United’s Glory days could return if they make one crucial signing this summer. The Red Devils finished the 2023/24 English Premier League Season in 8th position, conceding a record-high 58 goals coupled with 14 losses and some underwhelming performances. All this was mainly due to the inconsistent pairing at the back. Raphael Varane could only play 22 games, and Lisandro Martinez made 11 appearances due to injuries. It was a similar problem with Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof, and Jonny Evans; they could not stay fit. This leaves Manchester United to use a make-shift center back pairing of Casemiro and whoever is available at the tail end of the season.   

Manchester United flourished over the years with quality defenders like Rio Ferdinand, Jaap Stam, Nemanja Vidic, and Steve Bruce, to name a few. Manchester United is also adopting modern-day football, where they play out from the back, so they need defenders and goalkeepers who can pass the ball out expertly. Hence, having quality defenders and excellent ball handlers plays a pivotal role in playing through this system.

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Eric Ten Hag’s preferred formation is 4-2-3-1, where he sets his team up in a mid-block, releasing his attackers into space with more prolonged or more direct forward passes rather than pressing high to force turnovers and start the attack quickly. If he gets the right personnel to dominate possession and build carefully with short passing into the final third, he can be dangerous and hopefully bring back that fear factor to Old Trafford.  

For example, ten of Hag’s main rivals, Manchester City and Arsenal, play possession and camp in opposition territory; United starts from a deeper position, happily drawing the opponent forward before breaking in behind with straight balls through the lines. Matthijs de Ligt is considered one of the best defenders in the world and would be a suitable pairing at the back to plug that hole in Manchester United's defense. De Ligt is known for his strength, leadership, aggressiveness, tackling, and aerial ability, which is needed on both ends of the pitch. The Red Devils have scored a meager eight goals this season from set pieces and have conceded 14 goals from set-piece situations, making them the seventh-worst defensive team regarding set-pieces. While their cross-town rival and EPL winner, Manchester City, scored 20 goals from set pieces and conceded only three goals from set pieces.  

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De Ligt made his debut for Ajax under current Manchester United boss Erik Ten Hag in 2016. He scored from a set piece, making him the second youngest-ever scorer for Ajax behind Clarence Seedorf. Two years after his debut, De Ligt became the first defender to win the Golden Boy Award (the best footballer in Europe under age 21). He continued to reap rapid success under Ten Hag's tutelage, helping them win the cup double in 2018.  

He then moved to Serie A giants Juventus shortly after winning another individual trophy (Kopa Trophy) for his masterpiece on the field. He also helped Juventus to retain their title in his first season with them. Though he moved on and helped Bayern Munich to win a championship in 2022, his form dipped a little, making him second fiddle to Dayot Upamecano and Min-Jae Kim in defense for former coach Thomas Tuchel. His absence from the first team at Bayern also affected his country's place. He is currently at the European Championship with the Netherlands but has not started in any of their games; he made three appearances off the bench.  

Jeremie Frimpong, Joey Veerman, Matthijs de Ligt
Romania v Netherlands: Round of 16 - UEFA EURO 2024 / BSR Agency/GettyImages

At age 24, now matured and at a different stage of his career, the best person to rediscover his form is the one who gave him his first opportunity to show the world what he has. He would be perfect for Ten Hag’s system and will rejoin his former teammates, Andre Onana, Donny van de Beek, Anthony, and Lisandro Martinez. This, I guess, will allow him to feel at home.  

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Irrespective of his dipped form, he ranked second in the Bundesliga last season for passing accuracy, finding a team-mate 94.03 percent of the time. He also ranked second for forward passing accuracy at 85.55 percent—a natural replacement for the outgoing Raphael Varane and an excellent complement to Martinez. Manchester United is also looking at Jarrad Branthwaite from Everton, but De Ligt is more of a complete package, the type that the Red Devils lack. In addition to his technical ability and ball-handling skills, he has worked with Ten Hag already and is aligned with his philosophy.  

Physically, he has the frame to cope with the challenge. Mentally, he has leadership skills. Technically, he has the ball-playing ability. Tactically, he has worked with the coach before and is adaptable. A signing of this magnitude is a step in the right direction to restore the club's former heights.  

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