Manchester United are facing a potentially season-defining week, with a Premier League game against Leicester City sandwiched by Europa League play-off legs against Barcelona.
Erik ten Hag’s men will face the Champions League dropouts at the Spotify Camp Nou on Thursday evening and both sides are missing some key players.
Ousmane Dembele and Sergio Busquets will miss the game for the Catalan giants, whilst Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and Antony are among the absentees for the Reds.
Busquets’ absence means that Frenkie de Jong will almost certainly start the game and speaking ahead of the mouthwatering 90-minute affair, Ten Hag has heaped praise on the player he helped develop at Ajax.
“So I think we have a class in 2019 that was a team with a lot of fascination and he brings a lot of that fascination,” he said in his pre-match press conference, according to the Manchester Evening News.
“And I think he develops in the years after and here and in Spain he became even better. He’s a fantastic player, plays out from the back, he always has time and it was a pleasure to work with him.”
Interestingly, De Jong was named as one of Ten Hag’s priorities over the Dutchman’s first summer transfer in charge of the Reds but a deal never materialised.
Instead, United signed Christian Eriksen and Casemiro. Quizzed on United’s interest in the Barcelona star, Ten Hag remained tightlipped.
“I don’t know if we wanted him,” Ten Hag said.
“Frenkie is an incredible player and for every club in the whole world he will strengthen the squad because he has a unique quality. If you can get him in the squad your team will be stronger.”
Ten Hag immediately identified United’s midfield as the area of most need of addressing and his interest in De Jong is understandable.
De Jong did, however, make it abundantly clear that he was not interested in leaving Barcelona and United fans will be thankful after Casemiro’s first six months at the club.
The Brazilian has immediately endeared himself to supporters and by the time the game kicks off on Thursday, all eyes will be on that duel in midfield.