Van de Beek was considered one of Europe’s finest young midfielders when United snapped him up last summer for £35 million, but he is yet to establish himself as a regular starter in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
The Dutchman has made 27 appearances for the Red Devils so far this season, but most of those have been cameos from the bench and he has completed 90 minutes only once in the Premier League.
‘But Van de Beek is not yet at the point of panic over his role at United,’ says The Athletic’s Laurie Whitwell.
‘There have been no talks about him leaving at this stage and no feedback from United to suggest they want to sell him.’
However, then comes the sting from Whitwell.
‘Paul Pogba’s presence is a factor. His departure would present Van de Beek with more opportunities. Should Pogba stay, however, conversations about Van de Beek’s role are expected.’
It is not just Pogba’s future that will dictate what happens to the 23-year-old, however. Whitwell claims that United see him playing a deeper midfield role in the future, but they do not consider him defensively strong enough to fill in alongside Scott McTominay or Fred. If, however, United buy a world class holding midfielder, ‘a position that is on [their] list’ according to Whitwell, then Van de Beek will have more licence to create from a deeper position.
‘At present, suspicions are that Solskjaer does not trust Fred, Scott McTominay or Nemanja Matic to sit alone. There is also a belief Van de Beek may be afforded more opportunities once some of the team’s defensive issues have been resolved,’ the reporter claims.
There have been glimpses of what Van de Beek can offer United this season; the lovely dummy to set up Mason Greenwood’s goal against Leicester last week being one. But he has come under scrutiny for his possession-retaining, sideways passing which is seen as not in keeping with United’s more direct, attacking style.
This has been put down to his training at Ajax but it may also be due to a lack of confidence after his stuttering start at Old Trafford and also to a lack of match rhythm caused by Solskjaer’s reluctance to give him a run in the team.
‘Pre-season offers a major opportunity for progress,’ Whitwell notes.
‘Last summer’s special circumstances meant the usual work that goes on behind the scenes preparing for a campaign could not happen. Van de Beek and Solskjaer will hope a proper period this year translates to improvements next season.’
There is every reason to hope and expect that will happen and that United fans will start to see the real Donny van de Beek in the coming campaign – whether Pogba stays or not.