Manchester United kicked off the 2023-24 with a 1-0 victory over Wolves, but the nature of their performance will have left Erik ten Hag with plenty to ponder.
Ten Hag deployed a more attacking 4-1-4-1 formation for their opener, with Casemiro as the single pivot behind club captain Bruno Fernandes and new signing Mason Mount in more advanced midfield positions.
But time and time again, Wolves drove forward and exposed wide-open gaps in United’s midfield as Casemiro struggled to plug them singlehandedly.
Scott McTominay has been linked with a move away, Fred has departed for Fenerbahce and Marcel Sabitzer returned to Germany after his half-season loan from Bayern Munich. Unsurprisingly, United have been linked with a new signing to help out Casemiro in the engine room.
We’ve identified five potential targets that Ten Hag’s Red Devils can identify as they look to rebuild their midfield this summer.
“For now, the balance is not right with Casemiro alongside Mason Mount and Bruno Fernandes,” Jamie Carragher responded to the Wolves performance in his column in The Telegraph.
“Fernandez is a No 10, not a central midfielder, while Mount needs time to settle at his new club. Every time United toiled in the middle, the contrast with the youth and vigour Arsenal and Chelsea have secured with their recent midfield purchases became more pronounced.
“It reminded me of seeing Fabinho struggling for Liverpool at the start of last season.”
A frequent fixture of the gossip columns, Amrabat at the age of 26 isn’t especially young but anyone that watched him at the World Cup for Morocco will know that he’s not lacking in vigour. He was an absolute warrior as the Atlas Lions upset the odds to make it to the semi-finals in Qatar.
Arguably the best No.6 in Serie A right now, Fiorentina are reportedly open to letting their star asset move on for the right price. They’re reportedly asking for £30million, which seems like a bargain in this market.
Not only that, but Ten Hag is familiar with the player. Amrabat came up through FC Utrecht’s academy and went on to make 50 appearances under the Dutch tactician.
“Now, when I look back, I know it was so important for my career. I learned such a lot from him,” Amrabat recalled in an interview with The Athletic.
I mean Amrabat can definitely run… pic.twitter.com/2ynlLcx1sU
— The Big LFC™ (@TheBigLFC) August 16, 2023
Ten Hag handed Gravenberch his Eredivisie debut when he was just 16 years old back in September 2018. The midfielder was rated as one of the finest prospects in Ajax’s academy and went on to make over 100 appearances for the first team before securing an €18million move to Bayern Munich last summer.
But he struggled to nail down a regular first-team spot during his debut season in Bavaria. He made just three Bundesliga starts in 2022-23 and it remains to be seen whether he’s a major part of Thomas Tuchel’s plans for the upcoming campaign.
The 21-year-old Netherlands international has been closely linked with a move to Liverpool this summer but Chelsea have shown that gazumping Jurgen Klopp’s Reds is achievable.
Transfer specialist Fabrizio Romano reports that both Liverpool and United have contacted Bayern to enquire about Gravenberch, but the perennial Bundesliga champions have responded that they have no intention to sell.
It will be worth keeping an eye on whether he features in Tuchel’s teamsheets in the coming weeks before the window closes.
Everton’s financial precarity means that they’ll surely be tempted to cash in on their most lucrative assets if the right offer comes in.
United have already signed one A. Onana this summer but have been linked with another in recent weeks. Belgium international Amadou Onana only joined the Toffees last summer but made a big impression amid their relegation battle struggles last term.
The 22-year-old has the right kind of age profile and his physicality is arguably what United are lacking right now – while Everton boss Sean Dyche has compared him to an Old Trafford legend.
“I think with his physicality, driving into the box is a real good weapon,” Dyche told reporters.
“He’s a powerful boy, he will head it and he’s got an eye for it but then you’ve got to arrive in the box more.
“Bryan Robson had an amazing engine because he’d just keep getting in the box and he’d still run back, he’d still defend, he’d still do his midfield work but he could drive in the box. I’m a bit old now, looking at that, but I can see that in Ama’ to add to what he already is.”
Amadou Onana vs Fulham pic.twitter.com/ZoxYUZqsOy
— PLComps (@PL_Comps) August 14, 2023
Another impressive young midfielder that enjoyed an exceptional debut campaign in English football, Doucoure was named as Crystal Palace’s 2022-23 Player of the Season after signing from Lens last summer.
The Mali international, 23, has been identified in Liverpool’s midfielder search according to The Independent.
Having already been beaten to the punch on Moises Caicedo and Romeo Lavia, Liverpool losing out on another top target would make it extra satisfying for United fans. That shouldn’t factor into club hierarchy’s thinking, but he’d be a sound investment and look a natural fit.
Frenkie de Jong
The wildcard option. Everything’s gone quiet on the De Jong front since he was an ever-present in the rumour mill last summer, but it’s well-established that Ten Hag is a big fan of the midfielder he helped nurture at Ajax.
The Barcelona star offers a different kind of profile to the ground-eaters United have otherwise been linked to, but his passing range and composure in possession would be a nice compliment to Casemiro’s more robust presence at the base of midfield.
It’s unlikely this one will ever come to fruition, but never say never. Casemiro himself didn’t emerge as an option until late in the window last summer, after all.