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Donny van de Beek started 22 of Ajax’s 23 Eredivisie games last season and was a pivotal player for the Dutch giants over the last few years.
It was only a matter of time before he moved onto one of the bigger clubs in Europe and Manchester United snapped him for a deal worth £40m in the summer. The Dutchman was seen as a quality addition to Ole Gunner Solskjaer’s squad and added much-needed depth to their midfield options.
Van de Beek was expected to add more creative options to the Manchester United midfield and was seen as a good option beyond Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba in the squad.
But the midfielder has played less than an hour of football across four league games and came on in injury time in Manchester United’s win over Paris Saint-Germain last week.
Donny van de Beek remained an unused substitute in a 0-0 draw against Chelsea at Old Trafford on Saturday in a game that could have done with his creative spark.
His only starts in a Manchester United shirt came in the two EFL Cup games this season but it is certain Manchester United didn’t spend £40m on a high-quality Dutch midfielder to play in domestic cup games.
Netherlands legend Marco van Basten’s outburst against Van de Beek’s decision to join Manchester United came at an opportune moment to consider Solskjaer’s baffling decision to not use the Dutch midfielder more in the first weeks of the season.
Either Fernandes or Van de Beek in Solskjaer’s system
Some of the best football Manchester United played under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was when he was the interim boss in 2018 and they played in a 4-3-3 system. The Premier League giants played some scintillating football with a fluid midfield and Paul Pogba providing the creative spark.
But Solskjaer has shifted hard towards playing a 4-2-3-1 and has more or less remained inflexible since last season except when he played three at back in some big games. Pogba was shifted to a deeper role in the midfield with Nemanja Matic towards the end of last season.
Bruno Fernandes has been playing as the attacking midfielder since his arrival in January and has been more or less the best player for the Red Devils. The Portuguese is one of the first names on their team sheet with even Paul Pogba getting sidelined to the bench in recent weeks.
Donny van de Beek’s arrival meant Solskjaer had more options to experiment with his midfield. It opened up the opportunity for him to play a 4-3-3 and he even had the resources to play a midfield diamond.
But the Manchester United manager has not veered away from 4-2-3-1 and in that system Van de Beek is unlikely to start if Fernandes is in the team. The need for more security in the last few weeks has even lessened the amount of opportunities for the Dutchman.
Solskjaer has strived for more defensive security in midfield in recent weeks
Manchester United’s defence has not covered themselves with glory in recent weeks. A 6-1 defeat at home to Tottenham was the culmination of a string of games where the defence never looked comfortable.
The defeat to Spurs forced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer into rejigging his midfield. Pogba has not started since that chastening loss and Fred and McTominay have been drafted into the starting eleven. The Brazilian and Scot have tightened their midfield up and have provided more security to an inconsistent defence.
Fred and McTominay’s performance against Paris Saint-Germain brought even more accolades as they dominated the French champions in the middle of the park. They even started the 0-0 draw against Chelsea with Paul Pogba coming on from the bench at Old Trafford.
The need for more security in midfield has meant only Bruno Fernandes has been handling the creative burden from midfield. Pogba has dropped back to the bench and Donny van de Beek has been struggling to get a look-in.
Solskjaer is said to have spoken at length with Van de Beek about his role in the squad before the Dutchman agreed to join Manchester United. It is unclear whether he was told that he would less than an hour of football in the first month of the Premier League season.
A compressed season means, Van de Beek will get his opportunities due to the sheer number of games Manchester United would be playing in the coming weeks and months. But it is safe to say that the Dutchman didn’t envisage looking lost on the sidelines at the start of his Manchester United career.
The 0-0 draw against Chelsea needed a player of Van de Beek’s quality on the pitch to make things happen. While Solskjaer could argue that he is bedding in a player who has arrived from the Eredivisie and is still relatively young at 23, many would point to Van de Beek’s Champions League performance to suggest that he would more than hold his own against any Premier League midfield.
Wonder when Van de Beek would knock on Solskjaer’s door for an explanation for his continued absence from the starting eleven?