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A Scout Report On Manchester United Target Frenkie De Jong

Cameron Bhamra

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A Scout Report On Manchester United Target Frenkie De Jong

Featured Image Credit: Alamy

With FC Barcelona’s 25-year-old Dutch midfielder Frenkie De Jong seeming set for a move to Manchester United, his skillset and abilities are assessed below.

The roaming playmaker is highly rated around Europe but has thus far failed to shine for the Catalan giants during one of their biggest slumps in modern history.

Despite this, former boss Erik ten Hag seems intent on making the player his first signing and the centrepiece of his new era at Old Trafford.

As expected from an Ajax academy graduate, De Jong possesses an incredibly strong technical base, underpinned by razor sharp mental attributes.

Coupled with a crisp first touch and quick feet, he is capable of playing in all areas of the pitch with comfort, surely a legacy of the total football approach pursued in the youth development phase at Ajax.

Fundamentally, Frenkie De Jong is one of the best pure footballers on the planet. The speed at which he is able to absorb and process information on his surroundings mean he is rarely dispossessed under pressure and is able to break lines at will.

Frenkie de Jong is reportedly likely to join Manchester United from FC Barcelona this summer (Alamy)
Frenkie de Jong is reportedly likely to join Manchester United from FC Barcelona this summer (Alamy)

It is this aspect of his game, the very basic essence of football, that Manchester United currently lack in midfield. The ability to identify space, play forwards quickly, and resist pressure - all of which stem from De Jong’s phenomenal footballing brain and outstanding technical skill.

Concerning De Jong’s technical repertoire, he is clearly an outstanding ground passer on both feet, able to weight passes into the path of his teammates - a skill presently eluding other Manchester United midfielders.

His progressive passing statistics are strong: ranking in the 81st percentile amongst midfielders in Europe’s top 5 leagues, whilst also being in the 94th percentile for progressive passes received, according to FBRef.

Therein lies an important contrast between De Jong and anchor-man type midfielders such as Sergio Busquets or Nemanja Matic: De Jong is willing and effective at picking up spaces to receive between the lines, rather than solely dropping deep to dictate play.

The likes of Matic and Busquets also excel with their progressive pass numbers, but rank very poorly for progressive passes received since they prefer to drop into the first line of their team’s build up - De Jong is able to both drop deep to dictate but also to find dangerous spaces between the lines with his reading of the game and anticipation of space.

In addition to positioning himself well, De Jong is also a fantastic ball carrier, ranking in the 94th percentile for progressive carries against midfielders in Europe’s top five leagues.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Frenkie de Jong battle it out in the Champions League in 2019. (Alamy)
Cristiano Ronaldo and Frenkie de Jong battle it out in the Champions League in 2019. (Alamy)

His ball control at pace is elite and enables him to release the ball quickly when a promising pass opens up ahead of him.

Whilst De Jong may not be the most imposing player physically, his ability to cover ground somewhat makes up for this.

The aforementioned ball carrying ability is enabled by his strong stamina and ability to burst forward at high intensity, and these strengths also allow him to make well-timed late runs into the penalty area.

Again, his reading of the game is so good that he anticipates chances and almost always affects the play with his runs: either dragging a defender to create space for a teammate or getting a shot off himself. When he manages to shoot, he strikes the ball cleanly and is able to hit the corners.

When his team is in possession, De Jong can be a valuable asset in all areas of the pitch. He is mature and secure in deep areas - his ability to drop deep and receive allows for rotation between midfielders to disorient an opposition press.

In deep areas, De Jong understands the importance of maintaining tempo and minimising touches to avoid dangerous giveaways - an issue Paul Pogba has frustratingly failed to remove from his game.

In the middle third, De Jong’s intelligence and anticipation skills enable him to find pockets between the lines to connect play, whilst in the final third the Dutchman’s engine and strong timing allow him to arrive late into the penalty area and be a goal threat.

In possession, De Jong is a true box-to-box player with the versatility and nuance to be effective all over the pitch.

Defensively however, De Jong still has improvements to make. He would be a poor choice as a lone defensive midfielder due to his tendency to roam - it both risks limiting the player and exposing the team - thus another pure defensive midfielder is required alongside him.

Frenkie de Jong could be Erik ten Hag's first Manchester United signing.
Frenkie de Jong could be Erik ten Hag's first Manchester United signing.

Although De Jong’s work rate and athleticism help to mitigate his flaws, he lacks strength in the tackle and on occasion positions himself poorly when defending 1v1 against a dribbler, though with the latter, he is not worse than United’s current midfield options.

When defending in an organised shape, De Jong is an effective interceptor due to his sharp reactions and anticipation skills - he is also always ready to spring forward when chances arise in transition.

Other improvements Frenkie De Jong needs to make include his long-range passing and power. Whilst able to pass over longer distances, the midfielder lacks the ability to drive a switch out to the opposite wing at real pace - a skill Scott McTominay has ironically developed in recent times albeit only in one direction.

Increasing his power would also benefit his crossing which has yet to reach the level of the remainder of his technical game - do not expect to see De Bruyne-esque crosses from the inside-right channel in the Premier League immediately.

De Jong is a vast improvement on what Manchester United currently have in midfield. Indeed, it could be argued that De Jong provides what was expected from the Red Devils’ previous marquee midfield signing Paul Pogba: versatility and nuance to excel in all areas of the pitch.

Paul Pogba will leave Manchester United on a fee transfer for the second time in his career.
Paul Pogba will leave Manchester United on a fee transfer for the second time in his career.

Compared to the Frenchman, De Jong has the maturity to make the right decisions and adapt his game to the situation, where Pogba often played his own game regardless, resulting in frustrating and needless turnovers of possession caused by taking too many touches under pressure.

In order for De Jong to succeed where Pogba failed though, the team must be built around him: a defensive midfield anchor is imperative, as is a forward line capable of interpreting and creating space.

If De Jong is given the conditions to succeed, he will be one of the world’s best and most complete footballers.

Topics: Manchester United, Manchester United Transfer News & Rumours, Frenkie De Jong, Erik Ten Hag, Barcelona, Football

Cameron Bhamra
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