Transfer Talk: Top January targets for United boss Ten Hag
Erik ten Hag has wasted little time making his mark at Manchester United and a busy January transfer window is firmly on the cards at Old Trafford.
After a rocky start, the Red Devils currently sit just outside the Premier League’s top four, with Champions League qualification this term appearing well within reach.
If they are to hit that target, reinforcements look essential and there have been no end of high-profile players linked with the club in recent weeks.
With the English top flight on pause for the World Cup, we look at the areas Ten Hag will be most keen to strengthen this winter.
Cristiano Ronaldo left Old Trafford at short notice last month, which means United are now in the market for a high-profile attacker to build their team around.
Persistent links with PSV Eindhoven starlet Cody Gakpo seem to intensify by the day and that pursuit now appears time-sensitive given the 23-year-old has carried his fine domestic form with him to Qatar.
Having notched 26 direct goal involvements in 19 games across the Eredivisie and Europa League this term, Gakpo has found the net in each of the Netherlands’ three group games at the global showpiece.
Those strikes have showcased his versatility, too — nodding in a clever header past Senegal, a glorious left-footed strike against Ecuador and a right-footed ripper to down the host nation.
United are expected to pay north of £50million to seal a deal, securing in return a prodigious talent who can play as a central striker, wide forward or even in a creative No10 role.
Landing the wonderkid could be the most pivotal factor in their pursuit of a top-four finish.
Another forward being strongly linked with a move to Manchester is Chelsea’s Christian Pulisic.
Like Gakpo, the man they call Captain America has delivered the goods in Qatar, producing a goal and an assist to help steer the United States into the knockout stages.
Having seen his game time severely restricted at Stamford Bridge, it is understood that both player and club are open to a January sale — and United are ready to renew their summer interest.
Then, Chelsea had no intention of letting the 24-year-old leave but with new boss Graham Potter keen to put his own stamp on his Blues squad, a switch could now be on the cards.
If a deal for Pulisic cannot be struck, the Red Devils may try their luck at landing Bayer Leverkusen speedster Moussa Diaby.
One of Europe’s quickest wingers, the £60m-rated Frenchman is on the club’s shortlist but the arrival of Gakpo would likely render his current valuation too high for a January swoop.
Play your cards Right
At the other end of the pitch, Ten Hag has frequently spoken about the importance of having sufficient squad depth in full-back areas.
Tyrell Malacia’s summer arrival from Feyenoord has seamlessly addressed the left flank, with he and England regular Luke Shaw battling it out for a starting spot.
However, there has been a severe overreliance on Diogo Dalot at right-back — with out-of-favour Aaron Wan-Bissaka looking certain to head for the exit door next month.
When Dalot was suspended for United’s final pre-World Cup clash at Fulham, Malacia was given the nod to play out of position, suggesting the Dutch coach will look to add a natural right-sided defender as an urgent priority.
Names linked in recent weeks include Dutch duo Jeremie Frimpong and Denzel Dumfries, alongside American star Sergino Dest.
Case for the defence
As much as Ten Hag likes his football to be about positive attacking play, he is only a couple of injuries away from a crisis at centre-half.
Harry Maguire may be enjoying a solid World Cup with the Three Lions but his club future looks far from rosy having fallen out of favour at Old Trafford.
The club captain started both of United’s humiliating August defeats to Brighton and Brentford but has only completed one Premier League game since, suggesting Ten Hag has made his mind up on the 29-year-old Yorkshireman.
Raphael Varane, while undoubtedly world class, is a constant injury concern and Victor Lindelof has never been the most consistent performer since arriving from Benfica five years ago.
With a lack of top-quality central defenders likely to be available in January, it may be that Ten Hag opts to sit tight, cross his fingers and address the issue in summer.
However, joining Chelsea and Juventus in the race for 20-year-old RB Leipzig enforcer Josko Gvardiol may be a shrewd way to solve the problem a little quicker.