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Why Manchester United need to experiment with Donny van de Beek as a holding midfielder

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15th October, 2021

Donny van de Beek has had no starts in Manchester United’s first seven Premier League games this campaign, and a total of six minutes played. That is not the correct way to treat a good football player with so much potential.

One of the most controversial topics that has surrounded Manchester United for the past year is the situation around Netherlands midfielder Donny van de Beek and his lack of playing time at Old Trafford.

I, along with many Manchester United fans, have not been able to wrap my head around why United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær has not given the former Ajax player a proper opportunity to shine at one of the biggest clubs in the world.

I have believed for a long time that Solskjær must stop using two pivot midfielders and play two attacking midfielders with one holding and for that position to be occupied by van de Beek.

Donny van de Beek

(Photo by Alex Livesey – Danehouse/Getty Images)

Why not try something new? You cannot sit there and say what United have been doing for the past four years has worked because it has not. They have had zero titles to show for it.

The 24-year-old should be used as a deep lying ballplayer/playmaker and it’s a tactic that more teams have slowly adopted over time, especially with how attack-minded football is nowadays.

The best example I can think of is Inter Milan’s Marcelo Brozović. He is someone who collects the ball deep, spread the ball across the pitch and control the tempo of matches.


A big part of why United have struggled for recent success comes down to persisting with the likes of Fred, Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic when you have a gem rotting on the sidelines.

Though I like McTominay, the Scottish international has not proved on a consistent basis to be the long-term solution. Matic is past his prime years and Fred is very obviously not the answer either.

It is time to stop playing the ‘McFred’ double-pivot combination at the base of midfield but Solskjær seems completely oblivious to this notion.

You cannot tell me that fans would not love the idea of a midfield three containing van de Beek, Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes.

Van de Beek has operated in all three midfield positions while playing for Ajax so it would not be a role completely foreign to him. Pogba can operate more as a number eight in a box-to-box role and Bruno as the ten, which he has played expertly since his arrival from Sporting Lisbon in January 2020.

We all know that the Dutch midfielder is not a natural holding midfielder. However, he has no choice but to adapt given two of the clubs best players (Fernandes and Pogba) occupy the positions he has played in for the majority of his career.

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United

(Photo by Alex Morton/Getty Images)

I have envisioned Pogba and Fernandes’ games developing even further with a player like van de Beek behind them. He is someone who can collect the ball off Raphaël Varane and captain Harry Maguire to pick out the players mentioned earlier in key pockets of space on the pitch.

He can spray the ball from side to side to open up the pitch and get himself in positions to develop nice link-up play with short triangle combinations.

This is the opposite of what United fans see on a weekly basis (apart from the Leeds United game) where often they are branded as a team that does not move the ball quickly enough and lack elements of risk in the final third.

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I understand the argument of the need a stonewall number six who has the physical attributes to protect the defence and a world-class knack to break up oppositions.


But you cannot tell me van de Beek lacks the ability to read the game and is unable to make key interceptions/tackles. He’s shown that he likes to get stuck in and the United faithful love players like that.

It already seems that Solskjær has gone against his promise of giving van de Beek more minutes (this was a determining factor for him staying at Old Trafford), but the Norwegian can rectify that and give him the proper chance he so desperately deserves.

However, if this treatment of the Dutch international continues, you should expect him to leave the Red Devils and we can all think ‘what if’.