Erik ten Hag’s arrival at Manchester United has had a transformative effect on the club, both on and off the pitch.
Their performances improved in matches and the results followed suit, leading them to a third-place finish behind title contenders Manchester City and Arsenal.
United’s efforts under Ten Hag helped them secure a return to the Champions League for 2023/24.
Their transfer business this summer has shown they have also got their act together off the pitch.
After years of questionable transfer business – case in point: the long-winding defensive midfielder saga – they have now made some excellent moves.
The Red Devils’ three major confirmed signings seem to address the biggest gaps in their squad from last season, as we will explore.
The most important signing of the window for United is André Onana.
The decision to part ways with David de Gea was equally crucial. His contributions to the club over the years cannot be questioned, but he probably stayed for a couple of years too long.
The Spaniard remains a decent shot-stopper, but his overall game has major deficiencies. He was incredibly uncomfortable on the ball, while his cross-claiming and shot-prevention never inspired confidence.
A ball-playing goalkeeper was always going to be essential for Ten Hag to implement his preferred style of play. Onana fits the bill.
Besides being an elite distributor from his box, the Cameroonian goalkeeper is very comfortable operating outside his box in possession.
This quality has the potential to effectively give Man United an extra outfielder in possession, enabling them to progress the ball much better.
Onana is as good a shot-stopper as De Gea, but he should be better without the ball thanks to his superior sweeping and cross-claiming abilities.
He should prove to be a massive upgrade in the goalkeeper position.
For the other end of the pitch, Man United have spent a fair bit of money to sign Rasmus Højlund – €75 million, to be precise.
There has been some discussion about whether the transfer fee is excessive, but given the figures being quoted by other clubs for their strikers, signing such a talented player for this amount is not too bad.
United are taking a bit of a risk by signing a player who just has one season in a top-five league under his belt, but Højlund has clearly displayed his exciting potential in his short career.
It was quite evident from his days at Sturm Graz when he dominated defences in the Austrian Bundesliga every week.
At Atalanta, he showed how well-rounded he already is. Besides posing a consistent goal threat with his shooting, he also put up some decent chance creation numbers and had a heavy on-ball involvement.
The Danish striker tends to drift around into the channel and even drop back to receive the ball at times, which explains his high average of 11 progressive passes received per 90 in Serie A last season.
In this sense, Højlund is a very good stylistic fit in Ten Hag’s system. With his arrival, Marcus Rashford should also be freed up to play on the left, from where he has looked much more dangerous.
It may be a couple of years before the 20-year-old Dane develops into a complete striker, but he should be able to have an immediate impact on Man United.
United’s most contentious signing is Mason Mount. Many people have questioned the decision to bring him in after a very disappointing season last time out.
However, a closer look at his game and Ten Hag’s preferred system should make things clear.
Mount’s struggles last term can partly be attributed to Chelsea’s shocking season overall, which naturally made it tough for any players to excel.
He had a great time before that, breaking into double digits for both goals and assists in the league in 2020/21.
Even when he had a difficult campaign last time out, his most useful quality from Man United’s perspective still stood out – his ball progression.
The English midfielder not only averaged a healthy 5.36 progressive passes per 90, but he also got on the other end of them quite often at a rate of 6.23 per 90.
His reading of space and ability to receive the ball on the half-turn between opposition lines are arguably his greatest strengths, and that is what United will want to see more of.
Mount should be expected to start on the left of midfield, with Bruno Fernandes on the right and Casemiro in the middle.
While the Portuguese international will stay quite advanced, part of the responsibilities for the left-sided role is to drop deep and assist Casemiro in the build-up.
This is where Mount’s ball progression ability will come in handy, although he might need to get used to operating a little deeper than usual.
If everything clicks, Mount could prove to be a very shrewd signing for Man United.
While Man United have addressed the biggest holes in their squad, it could still use a little more fine-tuning before the transfer window closes.
They have made one more signing in the form of Jonny Evans, but his playing time is expected to be quite limited and his arrival has a lot to do with his influence off the pitch.
On that basis, they could still use another centre-back, especially if Harry Maguire leaves.
It may also help to have another option for the left-sided midfield role. The biggest question mark around Mount is whether he can play out under pressure in the build-up phase, especially in big matches.
Sofyan Amrabat would be a good alternative, so United’s reported interest in him makes sense.
This has already been Man United’s best transfer window in recent memory and has the potential to get even better.
Excitement should be building around Old Trafford ahead of the start of the 2023/24 season.
Stats courtesy Transfermarkt and Opta via Fbref.
- Aston Villa mark European return with shocking 3-2 defeat to Legia Warszawa
- Nunez, Salah & Diaz secure Liverpool comeback win over LASK after early scare
- Tottenham to trigger Son contract extension to avoid another Kane situation
- Ineffective Man Utd star should be dropped for Burnley clash
- Daniel Levy open to selling Tottenham stake in Tottenham for ‘the right money’