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To say that Donny van de Beek has struggled to hit the high notes at Manchester United is probably be one of the biggest understatements you are ever likely to hear.
The Dutchman, who was awarded just his second start of the season on Wednesday evening as United were knocked out of the Carabao Cup by West Ham United at Old Trafford, losing 1-0, has made a total of just 39 appearances in all competitions. For a player that cost United an initial fee of £35million it hasn’t exactly been justified.
Despite struggling to make a name for himself in England so far, United’s supporters are refusing to give up on the Netherlands international, who earned his move to Old Trafford as a result of scoring 27 goals in the 2018/19 and 2019/20 seasons combined for Ajax. There is a player in there somewhere, that is for sure.
But in Van de Beek’s defence, he has very rarely been played in the position at United in which he operated in at Ajax. At United, he has often been called upon to play a deeper, defensive role. At his former club, the Dutchman would be allowed to roam that little bit more freely, adding goals to his game and increasing his tally of assists.
But as outlined above, United’s supporters are not giving up on him. If anything, they want to see a lot more of him. Whenever United’s starting line-up has been released ahead of a match this season, there has been a real clamour from the fans to see him included, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer frequently being sent pleas from the fans to include him.
Against West Ham, United’s fans finally got their wish. He started and certainly did not do his chances of retaining his place in the team against Aston Villa on Saturday any harm. Admittedly, he probably should have done better for the goal United conceded, failing to stick with Manuel Lanzini and getting caught ball-watching, but his overall performance was encouraging. He put himself about from a deep-lying role and looked to try and get the Reds moving in a forwards direction.
Now, should he retain his place against Villa it could present Van de Beek with the chance to prove his worth and finally justify why United felt they should pay £35million to secure his signature a year ago. That is because throughout last summer’s transfer window the Reds were linked with both Van de Beek and Jack Grealish. At the time, Grealish’s price was much higher than Van de Beek’s, always making it much more likely that they would decide to sign the Dutchman.
Grealish, now of Manchester City, of course, was a popular target with the fans. They wanted him. But off the back of the first lockdown, finances were always going to be tighter.
In the past 12 months it cannot be denied that Grealish has enjoyed the greater level of success. After all, he has become the most expensive signing in Premier League history and taken his game to a whole new level. As well as that, it is quite hard to draw parallels between the two players; Van de Beek now operates as a defensive-minded midfielder and Grealish a winger. It is hard to compare them like-for-like, although, not that long ago, they both tended to operate as central attacking-midfielders.
Nevertheless, if Solskjaer finally caves into United’s supporters’ demands and gives Van de Beek an opportunity to impress against Villa and he delivers the goods, it could finally show why United were right to save millions on Grealish and turn to Van de Beek instead.
However, it all depends on the role he is told to operate in. Considering it is almost certain that Mason Greenwood, Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and Cristiano Ronaldo are likely to lock out the front-four berths against Villa, Van de Beek is likely to have to settle for a deeper role in the double midfield pivot in front of the back-four, alongside either Scott McTominay or Nemanja Matic.
It may not be the role where van de Beek could flourish to his maximum from, but if grabs his opportunity with both hands it could leave United’s hierarchy with a smile on their face.
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