Summer Signings Part 1: How can Erik Ten Hag bolster his defence?


We’ve reached that time again. It’s been long enough since the last transfer window that fans are starting to miss its daily drama, whilst forgetting the despair that comes with desired players inevitably signing for other clubs. In a summer that’s lining up to be one of the most interesting we’ve seen, Erik Ten Hag has a big rebuild on his hands.


In my latest article (click here to give it a read), we reviewed which players should stay in the squad, and which should be let go. The mass clear out that is reportedly planned for this window will leave plenty of space for new incomings, so in the coming articles, we’ll discuss players currently linked to a move to Old Trafford in the positions most needed.


In this mini-series, we will analyse and discuss the following four positions:


  1. Centre-Back

  2. Defensive Midfield

  3. Winger/ Wide forward

  4. Striker

In this first article, it makes sense to start with the centre-back role.


So who are the linked defenders most desired by the Manchester United fanbase, and who should be bought?


In the all-important centre-back position, the general consensus is that Harry Maguire needs replacing, and various names are currently being thrown about as to who that replacement should be. The three I will discuss are Pau Torres, Manuel Akanji, and Jurrien Timber.


So without further ado, let’s get started


 


In a Ten Hag system where play builds out from the back, centre-backs are required to be comfortable with the ball at their feet. Compared to others in Europe’s biggest leagues over the past year, Jurrien Timber’s passing statistics rank extremely highly.

Timber is in the 98th percentile for passes attempted and in the 99th percentile for passes completed, with 94.7% of his 79.93 passes per game being accurate. This is part of the reason he thrives at Ajax- he doesn’t give the ball away cheaply, so can help their sustained pressure. He also helps build attacks in terms of dribbling, with his 6.45 progressive carries per game putting him in the 97th percentile among Europe's best.


Pau Torres and Manuel Akanji both rank slightly lower in these metrics, with 4.83 and 4.6 progressive carries per game respectively. As a comparison, Harry Maguire has completed 3.62, whilst also ranking in the 56th percentile in passes attempted, with 87.6% of them being successful.


When under pressure from opposition players, a defender needs to be able to get out of a sticky situation. This can be reflected in dribble statistics as most of a defender's dribbles will be past an opposing striker. This offers a metric Pau Torres takes the gold medal in, with 1.07 successful dribbles per game, compared to Timber’s 0.76, Akanji’s 0.3, and Maguire’s 0.11.





Despite these enticing statistics that link to a more attractive brand of football, a defender's primary job is to defend. In this department, it’s actually Harry Maguire who starts off well. In Ten Hag’s Ajax sides over the last few years, the intense press from the front means the opposition are forced to play long balls towards a striker, so who wins the most aerial duels?


Out of the three players (statistics on Timber not available), Maguire wins the most of his aerial duels at 73.5%, which is something he is known for. Timber then takes another attribute, this time tackling, making 2.5 per game. This compares to Akanji, who is in second place with 1.3.


When watching the Dutch international, his confidence on the ball is outstanding for any player, let alone a centre-back. Defenders tend to look worried when receiving the ball- as if they want to get rid of it as soon as possible, but I find it’s the opposite with Timber. As I write this, Ajax’s game against AZ Alkmaar has just finished, in which he impressed yet again. Although he will not be given as much time with the ball at his feet if he was to join Manchester United this summer, it is clearly a skill he has. With that, his comfortable appearance on the ball shows in his promising statistics.



Ease of extraction


In terms of price, it is Manuel Akanji who will likely cost the least of the three. His current contract expires in 2023, meaning Borussia Dortmund may be keen on letting him go for a relatively cheap fee this summer. The asking price could be around £25 million (€30m) according to Chief Reporter of German outlet Sport1, Patrick Berger (@berger_pj on twitter). He is also currently refusing to sign a new contract according to the same outlet, indicating his wish to move- potentially to the Premier League, making a deal for him easier. However, rumours are also circulating that Arsenal are interested in him, and they could provide serious competition if they qualify for the Champions League this year.


Moving onto Pau Torres, Manchester United may run into a similar problem in terms of European football. Last summer, the Spaniard “refused an important contract offer” from Tottenham as he wanted to play in the Champions League with Villareal, as per Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano on twitter) - something he won’t get for at least a year at Old Trafford. As for a fee, Torres is valued around £47million (€55m) with a release clause of around £52million (€60m), which is a hefty fee to pay when the club are supposedly targeting five players this window, with a budget likely to be south of £200m.


Finally, Jurrien Timber could cost around £30million (€35m) this summer, which is a fee that may entice the Manchester United board. However, a recurring thorn in the club's side comes back to haunt them again, with Timber also mentioning in a recent interview that, “I’m good at Ajax…I can still learn a lot, especially if we continue to play in the Champions League.” That said, it would surprise many fans if Ten Hag was not able to convince the player to follow him to the Theatre of Dreams this summer, in what could be the start of a turnaround for this historic club.


In conclusion, I, as well as many United fans, am a big fan of Jurrien Timber. Having watched a lot of Ajax this season, I can say he is seemingly worth his salt, but the Eredivisie is not the Premier League. Adjustment to life in English football may take time, but with the likelihood of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof staying at the club, as well as the general agreement that a title challenge is off next year, he will have time to adapt- which is the same for any player bought this summer.


This, combined with his price, and his expertise of the new manager’s system, all supports an argument that the club should work hard to acquire the 20 year old.


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