Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag knows that improving squad depth at the club is vital if he’s to enjoy a successful reign.
During United’s pre-season tour of Thailand and Australia, Ten Hag was already concerned about the lack of options available to him at the club.
“This season has a lot of games with the World Cup, so we need more options,” he said. “We need a good team, a good squad, to get the right results at the end of the season. We need to strengthen the squad even more, and we’re looking around, but we need the right players.”
The Dutchman saw six new signings arrive in the summer, as Christian Eriksen, Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro, Antony and Martin Dubravka joined United for a total spend of £225million. The rebuild facing Ten Hag is so vast that this is just the beginning of the work that needs to be done to get the Reds back to where they belong.
The January transfer window is a notoriously difficult one for clubs to buy in, and after a World Cup the values of players are often severely inflated. Yet one position that United need to strengthen is right-back.
Diogo Dalot has proven himself to be head and shoulders above Aaron Wan-Bissaka in Ten Hag’s pecking order. Despite the former Crystal Palace man being injured for the majority of the season, the Portugal international’s style of play is clearly more to Ten Hag’s taste.
Malacia did temporarily step in at right-back against Fulham for the suspended Dalot, and although it was by no means his best game for the club, he showed off his versatility across the back-four. Ten Hag loves his players to be able to adapt as needed on the pitch, so although Luke Shaw has regained his starting spot at left-back, the Dutchman has demonstrated his value to the side by stepping up when needed.
As Malacia enjoys his maiden World Cup campaign with the Netherlands, he may well be used in another position away from full-back. During the last round of UEFA Nations League matches, the 23-year-old was used as a centre-back by Dutch coach Louis van Gaal.
The United defender played with confidence in a second half that saw him partnered with Virgil van Dijk, as they stopped Kevin De Bruyne’s Belgium side from scoring in a 1-0 win. Although Malacia wasn’t all too pleased when he first heard he was going to be used there, he certainly proved he was more than capable.
Malacia was quoted by Dutch outlet De Telegraaf as saying: “I went two or three times too much forward. That is not possible in this position as quickly. But I was corrected by others.
“I didn’t agree with it at the time, yes. That’s right. After the game, we talked about that moment for a while and then it was over. I’m comfortable with United at the moment. The national coach thinks that I should also be able to play in the centre of the defence. But I feel best on the left.”
His desire to play at left-back is understandable, but the World Cup may see Malacia once again used in different positions along the backline – though he failed to make an appearance in his side’s opening game win over Senegal. Although Ten Hag would have learnt a lot from his outing against Fulham, the possibility of watching his defender play a run of games away from left-back will be invaluable for his transfer plans ahead of January.
Van Gaal showed Ten Hag that he can use Malacia at centre-back, while the United manager in return has demonstrated to the Dutch coach his prowess at right-back. None of these positions are where the former Feyenoord man would like to play, but the more he can get himself back into the spotlight, the better chance he has of forcing his way into the first team once again.
Signing a striker is of course on the agenda for United, and MEN Sport understands United are open to the possibility of buying a frontman in the mid-season window, and if Malacia can prove at the World Cup that he can plug numerous gaps across the backline with the Netherlands, Ten Hag can concentrate all his transfer plans, and budget, on signing a world-class forward.