Manchester United paid £39 million to sign Donny van de Beek from Ajax in the summer.
After he scored on his debut against Crystal Palace, it would be wrong to say Van de Beek had a slow start – but in terms of winning over manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he has had to be very patient.
Van de Beek has had to demonstrate he can be more than just a stand-in for Bruno Fernandes.
This in itself is a very valuable role to have a player of his quality in case of injury. But Fernandes is undroppable right now, so Van de Beek has had to demonstrate his ability to play alongside him.
Passes test with flying colours
Van de Beek has now played back to back games in the heart of United’s midfield, against Istanbul Basaksehir and Southampton.
United played different systems in these games. He was part of a two-man fulcrum in midweek, before featuring as part of a diamond against the Saints.
Solskjaer decided to put Nemanja Matic in there to bolster the midfield against Southampton and it was a wise move. It enabled Van de Beek to play a box-to-box role in his first Premier League start.
It has been wrong that United kept Van de Beek waiting so long for his first league start, and results may have suffered because of it. The Dutchman has proven he is an asset, rather than a liability or a flair player who United cannot trust defensively.
Van de Beek has a strong all round game. While he is dangerous inside the final third, he is disciplined enough to play a deeper role very effectively.
He won four tackles in midfield against Southampton, while completing 82.6 per cent of his passes. This was a low figure by his usual standards, and reflected the intensity of the midfield battle against a competitive Saints side.
What made Van de Beek’s contribution so important was that a missing Paul Pogba’s absence was not felt at all.
While Pogba will have a role to play this season, long-term United will be just fine if he ends up being sold next summer, when there will be just one year remaining on his contract.
One of the reasons United have resisted the idea of previously selling Paul Pogba was the worry about how difficult it is to replace him.
Nobody is saying Van de Beek is a like for like Pogba replacement, but he is part of the solution.
United will get a fee for the Frenchman to put towards a new midfielder. Van de Beek’s presence gives United more flexibility on how it is spent.
Van de Beek is at United on a long-term contract and already he is showing signs he can become a real fan favourite.
His industrious style is made for the Premier League. Van de Beek adds an energy to United’s team which has been lacking at times as he presses opponents and puts them on the back foot.
The former Ajax man has now proven a point. He has shown he can be trusted to play alongside Bruno Fernandes, not just instead of him.
He will play a crucial role over the next few weeks, during the rest of the season, and for years to come.
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