Manchester United’s game with West Ham was a big opportunity for Donny van de Beek. He didn’t seize it with a match winning contribution and the critics have been all over him.

BBC commentator Jermaine Jenas described Van de Beek as ‘playing with fear’, while Football365 ran an article describing United and the Dutchman as a ‘rotten match’.

Our preference is not to take such a reactionary view. Van de Beek was always going to take time to gel.

This is a United side built around Bruno Fernandes, and Van de Beek is a different type of player. This makes it tricky for the midfielder to adjust to the team. It also makes it tricky for his teammates to get on the same page as him.

Manchester United v West Ham United: The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
(Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

This is an issue of understanding. Van de Beek hasn’t built connections on the pitch with his United teammates.

That’s not his fault. It’s tough to do when you are selected to start just two Premier League games out of 23.

His starts in 2021 have all come in the FA Cup and these appearances have been scattered apart.

As we have noted before, Van de Beek’s better games for United have come when he has played as part of a midfield four, like the home win against RB Leipzig.

Asking him to break down a West Ham defence which consisted of two rows of four with the midfield dropping deep, was always a tough ask.

Van de Beek thrives on finding space, and there was barely any space in which to operate against West Ham.

United’s other attackers were also crowded out. Edinson Cavani managed just 11 touches in the 34 minutes he played and did not attempt a shot. Mason Greenwood had just one shot in 86 minutes which was blocked.

It was a night for perseverance and not guile, and Van de Beek’s frustration was equalled by Bruno Fernandes.

Fernandes had one shot and created no chances during his 52 minutes on the pitch. Nobody is overreacting to his performance.

 

Van de Beek also had one shot and created no chances in 72 minutes of game time.

Neither were great, and nobody is pretending Van de Beek played well, but its wrong to lay into him too. Moyes’ side came to Old Trafford with a game plan, and for 97 minutes it worked.

How can it improve?

Ideally United would find a way to fit Van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes into the same side. It worked in the second half against Southampton.

When they are playing together, Van de Beek won’t be looking over his shoulder for Fernandes to replace him.

With that in mind, shifting to a four-man midfield may better accommodate him and better serve United while Paul Pogba is out of action.

What Van de Beek needs is game time, and he could have a role to play in the upcoming Europa League ties against Real Sociedad.

A league start this weekend against West Brom would help too, although we aren’t holding our breath. United need to give Van de Beek consistent game time and show he is important and give him time to build connections with his teammates.

It does seem like his confidence has been sapped a little, and this won’t change by keeping him on the bench. United need to find a solution on the pitch.

Manchester United v West Ham United: The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
(Photo by Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

Van de Beek must block out the criticism and believe in himself. He can be a valuable part of this squad and the pundits and media queuing up to lay into him, and United, are being too kneejerk.

This is a player who is clearly talented, with a proven track record of scoring in big European games.

It will take a little while to get right, but it will also be worth the wait when it does click. In the meantime, Van de Beek needs support not criticism and fans must get behind him.

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