Donny van de Beek’s latest Manchester United appearance showed how low his confidence has dipped.
Every time the Dutchman got the ball, he looked to ping it off quickly to the nearest teammate. There was no drive, no creative catalyst. But that doesn’t mean United fans should write him off.
In fact, there is an easy way to get the best out of Van de Beek. Rather than replace the 23-year-old with Bruno Fernandes when a game needs winning, play them as a pair.
Fernandes made an instant impact when he replaced Van de Beek on Tuesday. He played a sweeping penetrative pass within a minute and followed that up with another key pass and drive into the box.
Some United fans may argue that Van de Beek should be doing that. Yet he and Fernandes are very different players.
Signed for £40million (BBC), Van de Beek works best when making late runs into the box. He is less the creator and more the finisher. And that is where Fernandes comes in.
Few in football can unlock a defence quite like United’s superstar midfielder. Fernandes is a superstar in every sense of the word. He is also the man to get the best out of Van de Beek.
The Dutchman scored 41 goals during his time at Ajax and United fans are hoping for more of the same.
A goal on his Premier League debut was a promising start. Yet Van de Beek has not found the net since. In contrast, Fernandes has 18 goals and 12 assists.
With those stats, the pressure will always be on Van de Beek if he is tasked with replacing the Portuguese. Yet playing them as a duo could unleash the best in both.
The perfect partnership
Van de Beek was tepid against West Ham. He didn’t do anything wrong but he didn’t do much right either. He needs to bomb into the box, as Scott McTominay did to great effect for the winning goal.
But the Scot was able to do that because of Fernandes. Defences panic whenever he is on the ball. There is suddenly space where there wasn’t before. And Van de Beek has the skillset to benefit more than most.
McTominay, Fred and Paul Pogba will have their own ideas. But if Van de Beek can get more minutes alongside Fernandes, that pair could be one of the best in Europe.
Don’t write off United’s summer signing just yet. Had Fernandes replaced someone else last week, it could well have been the Dutchman with the winning goal.