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The one that got away: Manchester United and Matthijs De Ligt

This article forms part of our The Ones That Got Away feature series, which is where Football Transfer Tavern take a look back at players linked with moves in the past, and see how they would have made an impact had they signed for the interested side.

To be fair to Manchester United, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did at least identify that his defence was in need of an upgrade following his side’s disastrous end to the 2018/19 season.

The incomings of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire followed, for a combined total of around £130m.

However, it seems as though 14th-placed United have not reaped the rewards of securing the two big-money transfers, who have by no means needed time to adapt since moving to Old Trafford.

Wan-Bissaka is one of United’s top performers in terms of match rating, according to WhoScored – while Maguire, an ever-present for the Red Devils in the Premier League, is not too far behind while recording a club-high total of 4.6 clearances per game, such is his presence in and around the United box.

However, with overall performances hardly improving (with last weekend’s draw against Liverpool a rare positive result), United find themselves in the Premier League’s bottom half ahead of the 10th round of fixtures.

While it could be argued that problems are more prevalent up front – having sold Romelu Lukaku, temporarily lost Anthony Martial to injury and seen four-goal Marcus Rashford misfire in the meantime – United’s inability to claim clean sheets and keep out Premier League defences at ease for a club their size has left their record looking rather sub-standard.

Indeed, bar their only wins over Chelsea and Leicester City, their other clean sheets this season have come in the Europa League – which may suggest a lack of character when they inevitably concede.

Therefore, tightening up their defence even more may still be the answer to solving their current woes – and makes their unsuccessful pursuit of youngster Matthijs De Ligt all the more frustrating.

According to the Daily Mirror, United were thought to have ended an early pursuit of former Ajax captain De Ligt because of concerns over his weight, with Dutch scout Marcel Bout advising he may end up like his ‘significantly overweight’ father.

De Ligt was apparently Jose Mourinho’s first choice for a centre-back that never came back in the summer of 2018 – just months before the Portuguese was dismissed.

There will be no exact science behind the potential success of having both De Ligt and Maguire – who was also on Mourinho’s shopping list a year prior to his eventual move – together, but the prospect of having a young leader and (future) title winner alongside him would surely leave United in a better place, especially given that the likes of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly were unable to replicate the form that led United to become runners-up to Manchester City over a year ago.

Fast-forward to the present day, and with a third of United’s nine goals conceded in the Premier League coming from set-pieces and another from a defensive error, there is certainly a case to argue that De Ligt, who has slotted into a Juventus team that are yet to lose this season following his £67.5m switch, could have made a name for himself at Old Trafford.

Is this the worst Manchester United team in the Premier League era?

Yes

Yes

No

No

Manchester United fans, do you wish that you made a greater effort to bring in De Ligt before his switch to Juventus? Join the discussion by commenting below!

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The one that got away: Manchester United and Matthijs De Ligt
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