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Saturday, January 28, 2023

Ten Hag might have already shown how he will use Wout Weghorst at Man United

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The days of big centre-forwards being labelled as target men for route one merchants are behind us at the highest level of the game, but Erik ten Hag has still shown a liking for a big man in his attack. After building a brilliant Ajax team with a false nine in Dusan Tadic and then often using a penalty box poacher in Klaas Jan Huntelaar, he spent £20.25million on Sebastien Haller, a 6ft 3ins centre forward who gave his team a different dimension. In fact, Ten Hag signed Haller twice. He scored 40 goals in 81 games for him at FC Utrecht between 2015 and 2017 and then 47 goals in 66 games for Ajax. READ MORE: Ten Hag might need to do something he’s not done yet as United manager Despite his height, Haller isn’t what you would consider a target man. He can be useful in the air, but he has good feet and links play as well. He isn’t static as a No. 9 even with his aerial advantages. So in some ways, you could say he’s similar to Wout Weghorst. The Netherlands striker is a couple of inches taller, but he is also much more than a hulking lump of a centre forward. Weghorst scored only two goals in 20 Premier League games for Burnley last season, but part of his struggles at Turf Moor were that he wasn’t what Sean Dyche’s side were used to. He replaced Chris Wood, who the Clarets often sent long balls towards. Weghorst wanted to drop off, receive the ball to feet and bring others into the game. The best example of that was against Manchester United at Turf Moor, when he created Jay Rodriguez’s goal by spinning away from Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay and sliding an excellent pass into his strike partner’s feet. Haller could do the same. In their careers, they have an almost identical goal record with Weghorst scoring 0.48 goals per 90 minutes and Haller at 0.47. It is Haller who has 0.18 assists per 90, compared to Weghorst’s 0.14. Haller’s assist numbers went up playing under Ten Hag at Ajax, while Weghorst created more goals than he scored for Burnley. Another thing both have in comparison is struggling in the Premier League, although they both look to have games that would suit English football. Haller struggled at West Ham but when he heard of Ajax’s interest in January 2021 he was attracted by the possibility of working with Ten Hag again. “He’s responsible a lot for me coming to Ajax because of course I know him,” Haller told CNN in 2022. “I know him well. I know what he’s able to do and how he wanted to use me as well. “For me there was a lot of safety, let’s say, because I know how he wants to play. I know how good he is tactically and he will never let his players just do what they want. He always has a good view on the opponent so he gives us the keys to succeed during the game.” Ten Hag has built teams that are versatile in the striker position, which is best illustrated by the contrast of and switch between Tadic and Haller as he evolved Ajax. Weghorst is also a relentless presser, which would suit Ten Hag’s style, and he would offer a very clear alternative to Anthony Martial in terms of strategy. But the 30-year-old can also be a spiky character. He didn’t see eye-to-eye with a lot of his teammates at Turf Moor and he had made it clear on relegation that he intended to leave the club. There was little disappointment in the dressing room at seeing him move on. Much of that approach is driven by his competitiveness. That was maybe most visible on the world stage when he came off the bench to transform Holland’s World Cup quarter-final with Argentina in Qatar. Weghorst scored twice and unsettled the Argentines in what was a confrontational game. The Dutch ended up losing on penalties and Weghorst was barracked by Lionel Messi as he did a broadcast interview after the game, which is perhaps a signal of the spikiness in his personality. Ten Hag is attracted to those traits, however. Lisandro Martinez, Casemiro and Antony have all brought an edge to the club in one way or another since they were signed in the summer and the dressing room is stronger for it. But adding in Weghorst could be a risk to the balance and the team spirit that Ten Hag has placed such great faith in. The United manager might see it as a risk worth taking, however. Weghorst could add to the competitiveness and the raising of standards within the squad, while on the pitch he is the kind of forward Ten Hag has enjoyed success with previously. For a club with little money to spend in this window and a glaring hole in the squad, it might be a deal that makes sense. Perhaps most importantly, it’s a player Ten Hag wants, and as the summer showed, he often gets what he wants when it comes to transfers. READ NEXT: United issue update on takeover and send message to fans ‘From playing at Old Trafford to fighting for my life in 24 hours’ United target Wout Weghorst as striker signing United drop Financial Fair Play hint over transfer plans All the United news and views Story SavedYou can find this story in  My Bookmarks.Or by navigating to the user icon in the top right.

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