In-demand De Ligt could be answer to United's problems
When you play for a team as beautiful to watch as Ajax, there is always the need for a player who excels at the ugly side of things. Not the fancy flicks and the neat tricks, but the blocks and the bumps, the headers and the thumps. That player is Matthijs de Ligt.
At 19 years old, there should be a boy, but he has matured faster than most.
It was a performance which raises the stakes in the pursuit of one of Europe's most in-demand players, because as good as Ajax are, they had to cling on in London and De Ligt was the reassuring presence they drew strength from.
It had been widely expected De Ligt would follow his young Ajax team-mate Frenkie de Jong to Barcelona. That the Ajax boy would want to follow in the footsteps of an Ajax giant, Johan Cryuff, swapping Amsterdam for the capital of Catalonia.
It would be dangerous to assume anything. He has signed no contracts, there is no verbal agreement, he has not promised anyone anything. In his own words, he has "not made up his mind yet."
The door remains open and every top Premier League club should be trying to wedge it open to make their sales pitch.
He is probably - although these things are difficult to quantify - the best 19-year-old defensive player in the world, a ball-playing centre-back who, mercifully in the modern era, does not believe he is a defender in name only.
When Ajax were on top last night, De Ligt stood watch like a sentry, but when the pressure built, he was the organiser and motivator. When Lucas Moura built up a head of steam, it was Ajax's young captain who either held him up or forced him wide enough to reduce the threat. Do the basics and do them well - the first line, of the first chapter of the centre-back's guide.
The fact he is Ajax's captain while still a teenager tells you something else too. De Ligt is a "franchise player", a phrase borrowed from American football, but one which means he could be the face of a football club for the next decade. If Manchester United, for example, want to completely rebuild their defence this summer, the foundation stone could well be the young man from Leiderdorp. (© Daily Telegraph, London)