Donny van de Beek has rarely started for Manchester United this season. The vast majority of his 16 league appearances have come from the bench, and he is yet to fully fire at Old Trafford.
But, if the Dutchman had been used more wisely, United’s title challenge may still be roaring rather than fizzling out.
There is no doubting Bruno Fernandes’s quality. The Portuguese has been sensational for the Red Devils, with 26 goals and 16 assists this season alone.
But the Portuguese has just one strike and one assist in his last eight Premier League games. Three 0-0 draws in that time have cost United dear.
With six more points on the board, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men would still have it all to play for. Instead, it’s the Europa League or bust as the Norwegian looks to win his first trophy as manager.
And that is where the Van de Beek factor comes in.
United seemingly signed the £40million man (BBC) as backup to Fernandes.
That was wise, yet Van de Beek has barely featured, with Solskjaer seemingly unwilling to give his best player necessary rests throughout the campaign.
Reliance on Fernandes
Time and again, Fernandes has been called on. Even when Van de Beek has started, it is with the shadow of the Portuguese looming large from the bench.
Almost invariably, the 24-year-old has been replaced by his more experienced teammate when the game calls for a goal.
Some will argue that the Dutchman simply hasn’t done enough. Yet he needed time to bed in and the knowledge that he could make a few mistakes without being hooked or critiqued.
United should have given Van de Beek far more minutes. Six here and seven there is not enough for him to get used to the blood-and-thunder approach of the English top flight.
Such sparse outings also increase the pressure when he does, sporadically, start.
Van de Beek was seen as a smart, quality addition to United’s squad. He was brilliant in his homeland and was tipped to join some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
United would not have paid £40million for a player they didn’t want or need. But the overreliance on Fernandes has bitten them in this instance.
Yes, the Portuguese should start most matches. But his influence waned in the league just when the team needed every single point.
A fully-acclimatised Van de Beek could have been ready to pick up the slack.
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