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Man Utd’s midfield puzzle: Potential candidates to strengthen Erik ten Hag’s title bid

Manchester United had a busy summer going into the 2022/23 campaign and nothing should change this year as Erik ten Hag’s bid to assemble a title-worthy cast continues. 

The Dutch manager put his stamp on the Red Devils squad after replacing Ralf Rangnick last summer, but his quest to build a championship-winning team remains relentless.

Signing the likes of Casemiro and Christian Eriksen had an immense impact on United’s return to the Champions League, as the duo carried the midfield weight all season long. 

Despite picking up several red cards throughout the season, the former Real Madrid midfielder quickly established himself as an indispensable member of Ten Hag’s starting XI. 

His experience and unparalleled quality swiftly turned him into one of the Old Trafford favourites, with the 31-year-old anchoring the midfield with authority and purpose.

Unfortunately, Eriksen’s injury-plagued second half of the season, coupled with Fred’s sub-par performances, often forced Casemiro to do the heavy lifting in the middle of the park on his own.

Man United must go back to the transfer market to address the shortage of numbers in the engine room and provide more rotation options. 

Aware of the problem, Ten Hag is keen to add at least two new faces to his midfield jigsaw as we look at the potential candidates to join the Old Trafford outfit in the coming months.

Youri Tielemans

With Leicester City failing to avoid relegation, there’s no reason for Youri Tielemans to extend his expiring contract at the King Power Stadium. 

After four years in the Midlands, the 26-year-old is ready to open a new chapter in his career, with numerous sides looking to throw him a lifeline in the Premier League. 

Despite the Foxes’ disastrous league campaign, the Belgium international had a decent season, going toe-to-toe with Casemiro stats-wise. 

Apart from the ex-Real Madrid star’s clear-cut advantage in terms of defensive contribution, there’s not much to separate these two in other aspects of the game. 

By contrast, Tielemans’ forward pass accuracy of 45.5% beats Casemiro’s 42.2%, while he made 82 key passes compared to the 31-year-old’s 74, suggesting he may not be only the Brazilian’s back but rather a partner. 

Man United won’t have to pay a dime to sign the former Monaco ace – based on the statistics, this move should be a no-brainer.

Mateo Kovacic

Among players available in the market, Chelsea’s Mateo Kovacic could be the biggest coup for Man United, based on his stats in 2022/23. 

Although the Blues underperformed in the last Premier League campaign, the Croatia international showcased his playmaking masterclass to emerge as a rare bright spot at Stamford Bridge. 

While there’s no way he can compete with Casemiro when it comes to defensive duties, Kovacic excels on the other end of the pitch, making far more progressive runs (89.4) than his United counterpart (20.7).

The Brazilian beats the 29-year-old in terms of forward passes attempted (96.9/89.3), yet Kovacic’s accuracy of 83.4% trumps Casemiro’s 42.2% by some margin. 

Since the Croatian has just over a year left to run on his contract at Chelsea, a summer departure is well on the cards, and Man United shouldn’t let this opportunity slip through their fingers.

Joey Veerman

Joey Veerman is perhaps the least attractive name on this list, yet the 24-year-old PSV Eindhoven star deserves the benefit of the doubt following an impressive season at Philips Stadium.

With four goals and ten assists in 33 Eredivisie appearances, he was one of the most productive midfielders in the Dutch top-flight last season and first popped up on Man United’s wishlist in January (via the Sun).

Although the trail has gone cold, the Dutchman could prove a decent back-up option for the Red Devils and perhaps help the Old Trafford fans forget about the last Dutch midfielder to move to Manchester.

Donny van de Beek’s career in the Premier League has been an unmitigated disaster, which is why Ten Hag may be carrying some doubts about Veerman. 

But a quick look at his stats tells a different story, building a solid case for Veerman replacing Marcel Sabitzer, who will return to Bayern Munich following a short-term loan at Man Utd.

From progressive (98.9) and key passes (95.1) to forward passes’ attempts (97.2) and accuracy (71.8%), he beats Casemiro at every aspect of attacking plays. 

Maybe United should give another try to a Dutch midfielder to shine in the Premier League.