Ranking revisited: How Ten Hag views his Man Utd squad, with a new no.1…

Ian Watson
Manchester United's Bruno Fernandes, manager Erik ten Hag, and goalkeeper David De Gea.

Once more we’ve tried to put ourselves into Erik Ten Hag’s bald head to rank the Manchester United squad by how important they are in the manager’s mind after his first season and before the summer transfer window really gets going.

There have been some big risers since February, including a new number one. The numbers are skewed slightly compared to the last couple of rankings following the departure of free agents, like Phillip Anthony Jones, and loanees like Marcel Sabitzer, Wout Weghorst and Jack Butland.

Previous rankings are shown in brackets, from post-World Cup in February; pre-World Cup in October; pre-season last July; and upon Ten Hag’s appointment in April 2022…


22) Donny van de Beek (Previous rankings: Feb 25; Oct 21, July 18, April n/a)
Poor Donny. The forgotten man of Old Trafford. Roma might give him the chance to remind the world of his existence that he won’t get at United.


21) Tom Heaton (24, 23, 16, 17)
Still on volleys and brews duty after United activated their option to extend his deal for another year. There is talk that Heaton is bored of watching and wants to get his gloves dirty again but Ten Hag needs to sort his No.1 first before he worries about his No.3.


20) Anthony Elanga (22, 19, 19, 12) 
Ralf Rangnick liked him because he did what he was told but getting into Ten Hag’s good books has been considerably tougher while the rest of the squad is tuned into the manager. His versatility is useful and presumably why so many clubs were keen to borrow him in January. There will be similar offers this summer but perhaps none in the region of the £20million United want to part with the Sweden international.


19) Harry Maguire (20, 16, 5, 8) 
Maguire has arrived at the crossroads we all knew was approaching. Ten Hag has spoken warmly of the United skipper but actions speak louder than words. When one or both Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez were injured, the manager preferred Luke Shaw and/or Victor Lindelof. He was most useful in the later stages of games when United needed an extra body and a massive head in their own box. Maguire may prefer to stay at Old Trafford but he would only be getting under Ten Hag’s feet. A parting is best for all parties in the long run.

Man Utd squad ranked on how important they to Ten Hag: Upon appointment | During pre-season | Pre-World Cup | Post-World Cup


18) Anthony Martial (19, 13, 4, n/a) 
Martial has blown his last chance, surely? At any other club, absolutely. But don’t bet against Ten Hag starting next season with the Frenchman as his No.9. And we all know how it will work out. He’ll punctuate prolonged periods of not being arsed with the odd run or tap-in, then pull something and go missing for six weeks. Twas ever thus with Martial. Which is why no-one will pay United a decent sum for him.


17) Tyrell Malacia (18, 10, 9, n/a) 
Ten Hag’s first signing has shown exciting potential and alarming naivety. Thankfully, Shaw has been outstanding since Ten Hag walked through the door. If Malacia wants a future at Old Trafford, he needs to develop some consistency, which isn’t easy to achieve from the bench.


16) Scott McTominay (17, 12, 13, 6)
The Scotland midfielder would be useful to keep around but it seems he’s one of few United players attracting interest from other clubs. And if they can pull in a decent fee, it’s hard to reason why they should ignore it for a squad player whose status will likely drop further if United sign the midfielder they clearly want.


15) Jadon Sancho (15, 8, 7, 3)
Sancho is fit and available, which is progress from the turn of the year when he seemed to hit rock-bottom in the wake of missing out on England’s World Cup squad. By a significant margin. The winger – or is he? – showed glimpses through the second half of the season but Ten Hag has tried, without huge success, playing him through the middle. There, or on the flank, his opportunities could be even more limited come the new season and, once more, United are open to offers, reportedly in the region of £45million. But anyone coughing up that amount would be taking a gamble.


14) Fred (12, 15, 11, 7)
Despite his opportunities being more restricted, Fred had one of his best seasons for United. There was evidence he’s been used wrong this whole time when he thrived as a No.8, rather than in a deeper role. The same could be said for McTominay. But his playing time could be limited further next term and there are clubs keen to take him this summer.


13) Victor Lindelof (21, 18, 17, 13)
At one point, Lindelof appeared to be fifth-choice centre-back, but playing alongside Varane or Luke Shaw has shown that the Swede is better for the company he keeps. More useful to keep around the place than Maguire.


12) David De Gea (7, 7, 6, 5)
De Gea is not Ten Hag’s type – that much is clear. The manager would prefer a more proactive keeper, one with the an eye for a pass who’ll occasionally leave his line. But they don’t come cheap and with De Gea seemingly willing to accept a pay-cut, it seems Ten Hag might make do if he really has to. De Gea’s is days from the end of his contract and the fact it hasn’t been sorted yet speaks of indecision from all parties.

Read more: Onana, Costa, Pickford? Nine contenders to replace David De Gea as next Man Utd goalkeeper


11) Aaron Wan-Bissaka (13, 22, 23, 16)
One of the resurrection stories of last season. Wan-Bissaka’s United career looked dead and buried up until the World Cup break. He was wheeled out immediately after with Diogo Dalot not yet ready to return and when the Portugal right-back did, he succumbed to another injury. In his absence, Wan-Bissaka rebuilt his credibility to the point that Dalot now has a fight on his hands and United no longer feel the need to prioritise recruiting a right-back.


10) Diogo Dalot (11, 11, 10, 11) 
The Portuguese seemed to take his chance under Ten Hag and improved defensively. But Wan-Bissaka improved his attacking game too so there is a fight for the right-back position. Which obviously suits the manager just fine since he’s given Dalot a new deal.


9) Alejandro Garnacho (14, n/a)
The emergence of the academy graduate was one of the highlights of last season for United. With a new contract and a place in Argentina’s senior squad, next season will be vital for the winger. Ten Hag used him sparingly, especially while Marcus Rashford was tearing up the left flank, but Garnacho generally makes an impact when he is given a chance, as demonstrated in the FA Cup final.


8) Christian Eriksen (16, 3, 3, n/a)
Eriksen, along with Casemiro, formed United’s best midfield partnership since the Fergie era – he was only so low in February because of a long-term injury. But Ten Hag, evidently, wants more. If United land Mason Mount or any of the other midfielders they’ve been linked with, it will be fascinating to see how that effects Eriksen’s prospects.


7) Antony (10, n/a)
Ten Hag stuck to his guns with Antony, continuing to play him through some barren spells. Perhaps he felt obliged since he pushed so hard for the £80million Brazilian’s signing, but the fact he’s a winger that struggles to go on the outside because he doesn’t trust his right foot and he hasn’t the burst of pace necessary to escape is an obvious concern before a season in which he must begin meeting expectations.


6) Luke Shaw (6, 15, 14, 10)
The Ten Hag Effect is more evident on Shaw than perhaps any player the manager inherited. He was dropped and spent a brief period at the start of last season as second-choice left-back but is now firmly established as one of the first names on the team-sheet, either in his natural position or as a stand-in at the heart of the defence.


5) Raphael Varane (5, 6, 12, 4)
Ten Hag has made the France star looked more like the defender that won five Champions League medals with Real Madrid. Concerns remain over his fragility but retiring from international duty ought to enhance his reliability. Alongside Martinez, Varane has formed arguably the best defensive partnership in the Premier League. Certainly United’s best since Rio and Vidic.

Man Utd star slammed by pundit

4) Marcus Rashford (4, 9, 8, 9)
Rashford was better than ever last season but United were too reliant on his goals in the absence of a fit-for-purpose centre-forward. United need to remedy that in the transfer market this summer and Garnacho’s emergence means the manager doesn’t have to ask Rashford to play through every knock and injury, which is what got him into his pre-Ten Hag funk in the first place.


3) Casemiro (3, n/a)
‘Tell them I’ll sort this,” Casemiro texted his agent while watching United capitulate 4-0 at Brentford last August while his transfer was in the offing. Job done. The Brazilian has made the Premier League look a piece of p*ss and finally United have a fit-for-purpose defensive screen – at roughly the same time they have a fit-for-purpose defence – and a midfield string-puller who can set the tempo and get forward. If he could stop getting himself suspended, that’d be swell.


2) Lisandro Martinez (1, 1, 1, n/a)
Martinez was No.1 through the last two rankings and the fact he’s fallen one place is no slight on him. And we’re still not entirely convinced he shouldn’t retain top spot. But the Argentina centre-back was the most important player to Ten Hag through his first season because of the state of the defence he inherited. Martinez had to get a grip of the back four and turn it into a functioning unit. Not only that, Martinez’s passing from the back made a huge difference, which is emphasised every time Maguire comes in, steps on the ball, walks forward and passes square.


1) Bruno Fernandes (2, 2, 2, 1)
There are people who don’t rate Fernandes. Actual United supporters who still reckon him to be little more than a Hollywood-ball merchant. Mercifully, Ten Hag recognises what he’s got: one of the most creative players in Europe and a leader with endurance for days. Yes, he’s a moaning sod. Good. P*ss-poor standards have been tolerated at United for too long and Bruno won’t have it. Now, thankfully, he is keeping better company in the XI.