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Van de Beek has a complex Bruno Fernandes dilemma for Manchester United to solve

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It is April 30th, and Ajax have just played the first of two knockout matches with Tottenham Hotspur to determine which team will meet Liverpool in the final of the 2018/19 Champions League.

The 90-minute bout was a tight affair, with the result decided by Donny van de Beek, who had found the net just 15 minutes into the clash after being fed in the penalty box by Hakim Ziyech.

The Dutchman had also scored a decisive goal just 14 days earlier in the second leg of Ajax’s quarter-final tie with Juventus, and his impressive development would later result in a move to Manchester United.

However, since arriving at Old Trafford in the summer of 2020, Van de Beek has not showcased the quality that many expected, having started just four Premier League matches.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has appeared reluctant to field the 24-year-old since his transfer and as a result, he’s struggled to make an impact in England.

Wednesday’s win over Villarreal summed up his status within United’s squad; Solskjaer’s men were desperately searching for a winner – which eventually came through Cristiano Ronaldo on the 95th minute – yet Van de Beek remained on the bench until the end.

He appeared visibly frustrated and was comforted by those around him on the sidelines as he returned to his seat after warming up.

The future of the player remains undetermined, but Solskjaer could seek inspiration from Van de Beek’s time at Ajax, regarding how he was able to influence such high-profile games on the biggest stage as recently as 18 months ago.

Van de Beek has specific qualities which can be harvested, such as his energy, his movement off the ball and his tendency to nick a goal by arriving in the right place at the right time.

As he matured at Ajax, Van de Beek was used in multiple roles but particularly as a central midfielder and a no.10, which is perhaps why he’s yet to catch fire for the Reds.

Bruno Fernandes has established himself as the team’s no.10 and continues to post notable returns on a regular basis. The Portuguese international is yet to miss a single match through injury since joining the Manchester club.

Due to Fernandes’ presence, the United boss is limited by the formations available to him, as he must include a spot for his favoured no.10. 4-2-3-1 is his go-to shape, which includes two central midfielders sitting behind.

Those two midfielders typically have to offer a degree of discipline, protection and balance behind Fernandes, which is perhaps why Van de Beek’s offensive skill set is deemed as too risky in comparison to Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic.

The Reds have a go-to system, but Van de Beek’s spot in that system is occupied by the ever-present and dominant Fernandes.

For the Dutchman to enter the fray more often, Fernandes would probably have to be selected less, or the Norwegian coach would have to change his system to one which incorporates three central midfielders, or two no.10s.

A midfield diamond could be a possibility for Solskjaer, as well as the 3-4-3 shape which Thomas Tuchel has used at Chelsea on a regular basis, but the 48-year-old could then encounter hurdles when attempting to field wide forwards such as Jadon Sancho, Anthony Martial, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford.

It is a difficult conundrum for United to navigate as it could be argued that such wholesale adjustments aren’t worthwhile for the benefit of one player.

Ultimately, unless Solskjaer rests Fernandes more often or changes his shape to present Van de Beek with a platform to thrive – potentially at the expense of others – then it is reasonable to expect his role as a substitute to persist.

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