Manchester United transfers are like buses. Wait around forever and eventually two will come along.
As the Red Devils’ long-time pursuit Frenkie de Jong nears the finish line, the Old Trafford chiefs are holding positive talks with Feyenoord over Dutch left-back Tyrell Malacia.
Erik ten Hag held his first pre-season training session of the new era at Carrington on Monday, greeted by the players who finished last campaign with the lowest Premier League points tally in the club’s history.
As the Dutch head coach prepares to embark on a globe-trotting pre-season tour of Australia and southeast Asia, the squad will be eager to make a positive first impression, with first-team places well and truly on the line.
Any potential new signings to arrive at Old Trafford will likely be hand-picked by Ten Hag himself, heightening the competition amongst the current crop of players even further.
The Dutch boss is known to operate with a fluid 4-3-3 system, similar to the winning formations used by Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool and Pep Guardiola at Manchester City.
Here, Sportsmail have predicted how Man United could line-up next campaign, as Ten Hag prepares to fire the woebegone club back into the Premier League’s top four.
No prizes will be dished out for predicting Man United’ first-choice goalkeeper next season.
Crowned with his fourth Players’ Player of the Year last campaign, David de Gea was one of the most consistent performers at Old Trafford, having started all 38 Premier League matches for the club.
Although his spot was once in contention, following the meteoric rise of England international Dean Henderson, De Gea has since cemented himself as the first name on the team sheet – and this will not change under Ten Hag.
Henderson’s exit on loan to Nottingham Forest has upgraded Tom Heaton to second-choice, although Watford’s Daniel Bachmann could usurp the ex-Burnley and Aston Villa goalkeeper on the bench, following links with a potential move to Old Trafford.
Despite De Gea’s best efforts, the Red Devils conceded a club record-high 57 league goals last season.
Ten Hag’s first task will be to plug the leak in defence – too often have Man United relied on turning the tide with second-half comebacks.
Diogo Dalot has seemingly nailed down his place at right-back, following a disappointing season from 24-year-old Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who arrived from Crystal Palace for £50million in 2019.
The once highly-regarded prospect has been reportedly placed in the Old Trafford shopping window ahead of next season, suggesting that Dalot is now viewed as first-choice in the long-term.
On the other flank, a glut of head, hamstring and leg injuries left England star Luke Shaw on the sidelines for large parts of last season.
He featured once during the last 11 Premier League encounters, handing deputy Alex Telles plenty of playing time under Ralf Rangnick.
But the Red Devils managed just one clean sheet during that final stretch, forcing the club and fans to question the defensive reliability of the Brazilian.
Feyenoord full-back Malacia is on the verge of signing at Man United in a deal worth £13m, and it seems Ten Hag has had his eye on the Dutchman for a while.
Footage emerged online earlier this week of Ten Hag reacting to Malacia whilst in the Ajax dugout.
He appeared to describe the youngster as ‘amazing’ before asking the assistant to ‘take a note of him’ during an Eredivisie game.
Considering Shaw’s injury history and Ten Hag’s apparent approval of the 22-year-old, there is every chance Malacia could be given the nod during the opening stages of the season.
As for centre-halves, Man United have struggled to finalise a deal with top transfer target Jurrien Timber, who has been heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford.
The Red Devils are reportedly locked in a two-horse race with Arsenal for fellow Ajax defender Lisandro Martinez, although a deal seems unlikely at this stage.
Should the club fail to recruit an extra centre-back before the start of the season, Ten Hag will likely begin the campaign with the experienced partnership of Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane at the heart of defence.
As Ten Hag’s managerial style requires a high volume of possession, the addition of De Jong into United’s midfield is expected to bear fruit.
Partner the Dutch international with the explosive and goal-hungry Bruno Fernandes, and Ten Hag’s engine room is starting to take shape.
But following the imminent departure of Paul Pogba to Juventus on a free transfer, there remains an extra spot for Ten Hag to chew over in pursuit of his favourable three-man midfield.
Considering Man United’s defensive frailties in recent seasons, the Dutch head coach would be wise to deploy a ball-winning enforcer alongside the playmaking talents of De Jong, to offer an added layer of protection to the back four.
Fred and Scott McTominay are the frontrunners to occupy this role, with Nemanja Matic having left the club for Roma to reunite with former boss Jose Mourinho.
According to reports, Ten Hag has resisted offers from Newcastle for McTominay, viewing the Scottish midfielder as a ‘pivotal’ member of his squad.
Given the 25-year-old’s towering frame and defensive mindset, Ten Hag could be plotting to position McTominay as an anchor behind De Jong and Fernandes.
Brazilian midfielder Fred performed reliably in midfield last season and will certainly be in Ten Hag’s thoughts as well.
Should the new manager instead choose to place De Jong just in front of the back four, his former Ajax colleague Donny van de Beek could be handed a key role further up the pitch, as he bids to revive his career.
Despite speculation that he might be unsettled at the club, Cristiano Ronaldo is destined to lead the line next season following his 18-goal return to the Premier League.
Edison Cavani’s frosty exit coincided with a return from loan for striker Anthony Martial, who will be handed a fresh start at Old Trafford as Ronaldo’s deputy in attack.
Although Red Devils fans dreamt of a better debut campaign for £73m-star Jadon Sancho, the England international is still likely to reprise his role on the wing, at least at the start of the season.
Marcus Rashford endured his worst spell in a United shirt last season – starting just 13 Premier League matches and sitting on the bench a further 15 times – but could take the other vacant wing spot if the club fails to bolster the attack.
Fans will hope that the Old Trafford chiefs are able to finalise a deal with Ajax for Brazilian winger Antony.
Upon Ten Hag’s departure from Amsterdam, the 22-year-old told his former boss that he would ‘always stand with him’ if needed, but talks seem to have stalled in recent weeks.
Following the sub-standard returns from Sancho and Rashford last campaign, Antony would likely walk into Ten Hag’s starting line-up, tasked with injecting flair and swagger into the United front three.
In the event of his arrival in Manchester this summer, Sancho would expectedly get the nod at left-wing and demote Rashford to the bench, with Antony occupying the right flank as he has been at Ajax.
Highly-rated youngsters Anthony Elanga and Alejandro Garnacho will no doubt be waiting in the wings as well to capitalise on any potential sub-par performances.