The furore surrounding Donny van de Beek’s (lack of) game time has been very reactionary but shouldn’t come as a surprise given the over analysis of everything at Manchester United.
Van de Beek’s £40m arrival from Ajax (via Daily Mail) – the home of the Total Football identikit – came out of nowhere and, given United’s penchant for taking an age to complete transfer dealing, was completed with minimal fuss. It was a much anticipated move for a highly rated player schooled on the Dutch diet of between the lines passing, effortless movement, silky link play and late runs into the box.
Six games into the 2020/21 season and Van de Beek’s role has been limited to two Carabao Cup starts and four sub appearances in the Premier League. He’s yet to play from the start in the league but has featured in every game so far save for Saturday’s dire draw with Chelsea. Even then, he was more of a victim of circumstance rather than anything else. Solskjaer had Edinson Cavani, Mason Greenwood, Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic as well as van de Beek to call upon – had the five subs rule still been in being, Van de Beek probably would have got on but you can’t use every quality player all of the time.
We’re easing him in, and the Dutchman will get plenty of chances to impress in what we hope will be a 50/60 game season. New signings don’t always play every minute of every game, and there have been plenty of examples of easing players in – not just at United but at other clubs too. United’s biggest problem last season was a lack of depth. Solskjaer had limited options to turn to when the going got tough last season. Van de Beek is the man, at least in part, to solve that. It was clear he was never going to be an instant first team player from day one. He will play plenty of games and will be a very good player for us in future. It’s too early to judge him, but he scored on his debut, notched two assists against Brighton and changed the game at Newcastle. He looks like he’s got something about him but will have to bide his time. Welcome to the cut-throat, dog-eat-dog, pressure cooker environment of professional football.
Fabinho hardly played in his first season at Liverpool but is now an integral part of Jurgen Klopp’s first team. Riyad Mahrez was mainly a substitute at City having signed for 60m. He too, has now become on of the first names on Pep Guardiola’s team sheet. Ander Herrera took time to settle and didn’t hold down a place in the side until his second campaign at Old Trafford, going on to play over 150 games for United. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra – two of the Reds greatest defensive titans of the modern era – weren’t ever presents at the start of their fledgling Reds careers. Heck, even Cristiano Ronaldo often warmed the bench in his early days at the club. Mesut Ozil wasn’t even included in Arsenal’s squad for the league, Hakim Ziyech has barely been seen and Diogo Jota at Liverpool has played the same amount of games as van de Beek (and co-incidentally, cost more), yet none of these examples have had days worth of blanket coverage. Leroy Sane another example of a player who was drip fed game time.
He is undoubtedly a good player but I don’t see how or where Van de Beek fits into this United side at present. He’s not a winger, and so the argument of playing him ahead of the likes of Dan James, Juan Mata and Greenwood is a futile one. Fred and Scott McTominay look to be Solskjaer’s preferred pairing in midfield – the duo offer balance, energy and industry and fit the system perfectly. Van de Beek can’t do that job, he’s not a defensive player and so playing him ahead of either of those two not only creates an imbalance but also wouldn’t get the best out of the Dutchman. It leaves United top heavy and over-run in the middle with one defensive player and four attack minded ones. Fred and McTominay have done little wrong, neither deserve to be dropped and you can’t have two number tens – one in his natural position and the other shoehorned into a defensive role – just to please everyone and to fit an agenda. You can’t play him wide, you can’t play him deep in front of the back four and you’re not dropping Fernandes so there’s no place in the team for van de Beek at the moment.You can’t accomodate Van de Beek into a diamond as such a system is incompatible with full backs in Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw that don’t attack.
But his time will come, there is definitely a future for van de Beek and the gutter press need to wind their necks in. United have a big squad, and with games coming every three or four days, rotation is key.