The Netherlands international has become Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first summer signing, but how does he fit into the Red Devils’ current system?
It may have taken until the start of September, but Manchester United have finally announced their first senior signing of the summer.
The Red Devils have completed a £35 million ($46m) deal with Ajax to sign midfielder Donny van de Beek, with the Netherlands international having put pen to paper on a five-year contract at Old Trafford.
There are questions, however, regarding quite where he fits into Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team given the midfielders who are already at the club and the 23-year-old’s main strengths.
United’s surge towards a third-placed finish in the Premier League last season was built on consistency of selection, with Solskjaer benefitting from a fully fit squad to secure Champions League qualification.
Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes were given the opportunity to begin building an encouraging relationship at the heart of the team’s midfield, safe in the knowledge that the more defensively-minded Nemanja Matic was able to protect the backline behind them.
Given that, there are some who believe Van de Beek is being brought in as a squad option who can rotate in and out ahead of what promises to be a relentless campaign, with a view to him potentially becoming a regular starter should Pogba’s urge to leave the club return in the next 12-18 months.
But given the price tag, it is fair to presume that Solskjaer does have more than just a bench role in mind for his latest new signing. So where would Van de Beek fit into the current United line-up?
Solskjaer has largely favoured a 4-3-3 formation during his time in charge at United, and if that is to continue then it would seem that Van de Beek is being lined up to step in for Matic in a holding midfield role.
Given he contributed 10 goals and 11 assists in all competitions during his final season at Ajax, that would seemingly limit his potential output in the final third.
It does, however, mean that Pogba and Fernandes can continue to play the same roles they shone in during the final weeks of the 2019-20 campaign.
Given his age, there is nothing to suggest that Van de Beek could not adapt to playing such a role.
He made more successful tackles per 90 minutes last season (2.2) than either Pogba (1.5) or Fernandes (1.7), and while his inclusion in a deeper role would give United’s midfield a very attacking outlook, they are – in theory – likely to be on the front foot in the majority of the league matches they play in the upcoming season.
If that is not how Solskjaer chooses to use Van de Beek, then fans could see him revert to a system he used sporadically over the course of the last campaign.