United have been in need of a complete turnaround for some time, but its perhaps only this summer that the full extent of the problem at Old Trafford has been on show for everyone to see. A season of reported behind-the-scenes fighting and below-par performances across the board has left the new manager with a mountain of work to complete.
Midfield was identified as the priority, and Ten Hag had the ideal addition in mind in Frenkie de Jong. Given their history together, and Barcelonas precarious financial footing, it would surely be a straightforward process to land him, right?
Well, it certainly hasnt turned out that way. United have spent virtually the whole summer chasing after the Netherlands international, only to be left frustrated by Barcelona at every turn. Whats more, the spectre of being beaten to his signature by one of their direct rivals is now hanging over them.
Over the last few months, it has seemed as though De Jong would either be heading to United or staying put at Barcelona. But now the prospect of a move to Chelsea seems to be developing, presenting United with a nightmare scenario.
Gary Neville has been one of those mooting a potential hijacking by the Stamford Bridge outfit. Summing up the situation on Friday, the former United captain said: Manchester United is a huge job full stop. It's become even more difficult in the past few weeks that he hasn't got in the players that he wanted.
They might get them in, within the next few weeks but Manchester United will look incredibly smart if they get De Jong in or they might look a little embarrassed. Particularly if he goes to Chelsea.
Missing out on De Jong would be a bitter, bitter blow for United given how long theyve spent trying to prise him away from the Nou Camp, but it would at least be understandable if he were to stay put at Barcelona. Seeing him move to Chelsea would be a completely different matter.
Of course, it wouldnt be the first time United fans have had their hopes raised, only to see them dashed by one of their rivals beating them to the punch. Just over the past few months, weve seen both Erling Haaland and Kalvin Phillips move to the blue half of the city after being touted for Old Trafford, while the club elected not to follow up on Darwin Nunez, paving the way for Liverpool to have a clear run at the striker.
Losing out to the two best teams in the country at the moment is always a risk when you go head-to-head with them on transfers, given how high theyve set the bar over recent years. But to see De Jong choosing Chelsea, a direct rival in the race for the top four, would be a seriously worrying sign.
It is, therefore, imperative that United dont let another chance slip through their grasp and risk losing any more ground on their big six rivals. Theyve already given them enough of a head start over the past year.