How will Tyrell Malacia fit in at Ten Hag’s Manchester United?


Manchester United completed their first signing of the Erik Ten Hag era yesterday morning, announcing the arrival of Feyenoord left-back Tyrell Malacia.

The Dutchman signed for a reported fee of €15 million with a further €2 million in add-ons, on an initial four-year deal (with the option to extend for a further 12 months). Malacia has played the entirety of his youth and professional career with the Eredivisie side, making the Red Devils only his second permanent home.

United will be looking to begin a crucial rebuilding process under new management, putting several years of overall disappointment behind them. Eleven players have already left the club with their contracts expiring, including the likes of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and Edinson Cavani. Alongside this mass staff exodus, rumours are circulating that more could be on their way, the most noteworthy of these being footballing great Cristiano Ronaldo. Old Trafford will seemingly be without many familiar faces in the upcoming campaign, and Malacia marks the beginning of a hopeful club progression.

Strengths and Weaknesses

The 22-year-old was certainly a wanted man following last season’s conclusion. He was close to joining the French side Lyon, who were prepared to offer €13 million upfront with €2 million in add-ons. €2 million shy of United’s improved offer overall.

Malacia scored once and registered four assists across 32 appearances in the Eredivisie last time out, averaging an impressive match rating of 7.14 ( The Netherlands international was key to Feyenoord’s attacking play and particularly excelled in bringing the ball further up the pitch. He averaged 1.6 completed dribbles per game, over double and quadruple that of current United left-backs Alex Telles (0.6) and Luke Shaw (0.4) respectively. It should be noted, however, that Malacia does get dispossessed once more per 90 minutes than the pairing, suggesting he’s more of an attacking risk-taker.

His passing abilities will have also caught the eyes of United scouts. The defender generally made around 56.1 passes each match, with a success rate of 85.3%. Upon arrival at Carrington, he’ll be competing against a duo who average slightly fewer passes and accuracy (Shaw: 46.2 and 84.1%, Telles: 44.5 and 80.3%), although the competitiveness of the two leagues will undoubtedly come into question.

Malacia’s defensive statistics may surprise a number of supporters too. United’s back line came under heavy criticism last season from fans and pundits alike, with only Leicester conceding more goals in the top half of the table. The new arrival’s numbers look to be a serious improvement on Shaw’s current rates. Malacia averages over double the amount of tackles (2.7) and interceptions (1.1) than the Englishman (1.1, 0.5), as well as committing fewer fouls and more clearances. Despite what seems like a looming departure, the Dutchman’s defensive numbers actually correlate similarly to Telles’, who was often scrutinised for his poor positional sense.

Manchester United and Feyenoord obviously performed under different tactical systems last season, but Malacia will need to improve the effectiveness of his crossing given the importance of his position in the modern game. He averaged around half the completed balls into the area per match (0.7) compared to his new teammates. If Ronaldo is to stay at the club, he’ll undoubtedly benefit from a higher standard of whipped crosses from which he can finish.

The 22-year-old may also be expected to deliver a higher number of crucial passes in Ten Hag’s system. Under his management, Ajax full-back Daley Blind recorded the most key balls in last season’s Champions League, highlighting the importance the coach places on his wide defenders. Malacia averaged 1.1 key passes in the league, almost half of what his competition in Shaw recorded (2).

Fitting into Ten Hag’s System

It’s no surprise that United’s new manager prefers to play in a similar system to that of Pep Guardiola, given that he oversaw Bayern Munich’s second side while the Spaniard ruled the first team.

Just like Pep and Liverpool’s Jürgen Klopp, Ten Hag’s teams play in a 4-3-3 possession-based formation. The 52-year-old gives massive responsibility to his full-backs, who end up becoming the players with the most time and space at their feet. At Ajax, Blind often tucked in to make a back three during possession, allowing Noussair Mazraoui to act as more of an inverted right-back who could drift into the midfield. This was crucial to their possessive progression and beating opposition presses.

The full-backs’ roles are equally as important to creating attacking overloads in wide areas of the opponent’s half. Through mainly Mazraoui’s forward runs, Ajax could form triangles outside the 18-yard box which in turn left a man unmarked to get in behind the opposing back line. We see this exact style of play on a recurring basis at Manchester City, who then capitalise on low crosses into the box.

On paper it would seem that the likes of Shaw, Diego Dalot, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka would be more comfortable performing in the Blind-like role, leaving room for a new acquisition to take up an inverted position. Malacia’s dribbling abilities could make him the ideal player to fulfill United’s possessive progression, and his passing may allow him to effectively take up midfield positions with the ball. It will also be intriguing to see whether, as a left-footed player, Ten Hag trusts him on the opposite flank as Guardiola does at City with João Cancelo.

Follow us on Twitter @ProstInt


Comments are closed.