Down The Wings

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What is going on with Donny van de Beek?

The forgotten Dutchman (Photo by Robbie Jay Barratt – AMA/Getty Images)

Manchester United’s draw against Southampton saw the Reds drop points for the first time this season. Despite the result ensuring the impressive equalling of the Arsenal invincible away record, tallying 27 unbeaten, there is no escaping the feeling of disappointment. Unfortunately, it felt like “more of the same” from last season, yet another underwhelming draw against a side United should be beating. Frustrations with the outcome of the game were understated as emotions quickly developed into feelings of ambivalence towards Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s treatment of Dutch midfielder Donny van de Beek.

In the Summer of 2020, many Reds fans were pleasantly surprised by the arrival of the type of player that so often goes under the radar of the recruitment team at Old Trafford. A key player in Ajax’s system, Van de Beek helped push his boyhood club to the semi-finals of the Champions League in the 2018/19 campaign and was renowned for a world-class display at the Bernabeu that same season when his side thumped Real Madrid 4-1 in their own back yard. An impressive 30 goal involvements in 57 appearances that campaign had the midfielder touted by European football’s top outfits, so when van de Beek completed a £35m move to Manchester, United fans were nothing short of impressed as Jack Grealish – a transfer target at that time – was being quoted at being more than double the price throughout the 2019/20 season.

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Just over a year later, following just four Premier League starts, many of the Old Trafford faithful now believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer simply has no belief in the 24-year-old as a player and, in the harshest of realities, was probably delivered a player who he didn’t particularly want in the first place. Although the former Ajax man has impressed in his cameos, van de Beek has never started back-to-back games in a United shirt, reflective of the fact that he is way down the boss’ pecking order.

Expectedly, Bruno Fernandes has had the attacking-midfield role on lockdown, so Donny’s chances in the team have been further behind in the holding midfield or box-to-box roles in a 4-2-3-1 system. Even then, however, Solskjaer’s persistence with Fred and McTominay has meant little time to shine for the Dutch playmaker, and even in the absence of “McFred”, the Norwegian manager opts for an aging Nemanja Matic in the middle of the park. Some have suggested that van de Beek could operate well on the left or right of the attacking three, but despite the fact, there is a credible argument to be had there, you would most likely be wasting your breath suggesting such a thought.

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With exceptional talent in the attack and defense, it was once again a sub-par midfield that let the Red Devils down yesterday. Fred’s wayward passing once again limited the team, with him and Matic losing possession 37 times collectively throughout the 90 minutes. An inability to progress the ball from defense to attack has thwarted United in many a game during Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure, but with a product of Ajax’s “total football” system sat on the bench who is capable of fixing this issue, many United fans are now pointing the blame towards the manager as oppose to Fred, who undoubtedly has the work effort and tenacity of a ball-winning midfielder, but simply isn’t good enough at the level Manchester United should be aspiring towards.

There was frequent talk last season that van de Beek was enduring an adaptation process into the physical side of English football and had limited opportunities for that reason. Whether or not that is the truth behind his lack of minutes, the Dutchman has since significantly bulked up – he was said to have dominated an old-school, physical Burnley midfield in a friendly match last week. The player is said to have confidence he can play his way into the team, but surely will be running out of patience over his lack of opportunities.

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It was reported this morning that the United manager sees the struggling midfielder as “important” for the team this season, as per the Manchester Evening News, despite being an unused substitute once again down South on Sunday.

Albeit this would appear good news, similar noises have come out of the club before; time will ultimately tell whether Donny van de Beek can build a future at the Theatre of Dreams.

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