If Donny van de Beek wasn’t growing increasingly bemused at his omission from the Manchester United first team, his face did a good job of betraying him. More than once, the Dutch midfielder was shown sitting in the stands watching his new team with an expression that said he, along with many fans and pundits, couldn’t understand why Ole Gunnar Solskjaer kept overlooking him for a place in the lineup.
Van de Beek’s arrival at Old Trafford from Ajax in the summer transfer window caught many off guard. United had a number of problems to address ahead of the 2020/21 season, with the signing of a right winger, striker and centre back reportedly prioritised. Another creative midfielder following on from the January addition of Bruno Fernandes didn’t look to be on the cards.
Solskjaer now boasts three of the best central creators in the Premier League, but no way of squeezing them all into the same team at once. Paul Pogba’s period of self-isolation due to a positive Covid-19 test and the recent hectic schedule due to the delayed start of the season should have opened the door for van de Beek to start some games, but only a handful of cameos off the bench came his way.
That changed on Wednesday night, with van de Beek picked to play from the start against RB Leipzig. That the Dutchman hadn’t already started a game in the Premier League or Champions League appeared strange. Van de Beek had, after all, impressed in the short cameos he’d made. At Newcastle United a fortnight ago, for instance, the 23-year-old was introduced off the bench after 76 minutes with the scoreline poised at 1-1. United ultimately won 4-1.
To the point of exasperation, Solskjaer has retired more than once that van de Beek will get sufficient game time over the course of the season as a whole. The Norwegian probably feels some vindication in his stance after the midfielder’s positive performance in the 5-0 win over RB Leipzig, but United fans should still refrain from clamouring for more starts.
Instead, they should look at how their closest rivals followed a similar path to ease in one of their best players following a summer transfer. Liverpool’s handling of Fabinho’s arrival presents van de Beek and Manchester United with a precedent to follow.
Despite Fabinho’s obvious quality, Jurgen Klopp recognised the Brazilian midfielder would need time to be brought up to speed on Liverpool’s pressing patterns and overall intensity. The German didn’t want to set up his new signing to fall and so eased him into the starting lineup rather than just dropping him straight in from the start when he might have been left exposed.
Fabinho went on to become a central pillar of the Liverpool team that won the Champions League and Premier League in back-to-back seasons. The Brazilian’s period of integration was crucial to him becoming the Reds’ perfect midfield anchor and van de Beek might now be going through the same process as a Manchester United player.
“Donny is going to play a big part,” Solskjaer clarified when asked what his plans are for his new signing. “I realise the topic is Donny van de Beek and it’s nice for some [former] players or commentators to have a little go. I know you’re short for time when you’re on telly and you have to put your points across very quickly, but you have to know that you don’t have to start the first [league] games to be a very important player in the squad.”
Unlike Klopp’s Liverpool side, Solskjaer’s United don’t play in such intricate patterns. It shouldn’t take a new signing so long to get up to speed with the Norwegian’s methods – see Fernandes’ instant impact after signing from Sporting CP in January. Nonetheless, Manchester United fans, and perhaps even van de Beek himself after his start against RB Leipzig, should remain patient. Fabinho and Liverpool were patient and they reaped the rewards for it.
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