Manchester United

Donny van de Beek can and will play alongside Bruno Fernandes at Man Utd - give it time

Mitchell Wilks
Donny van de Beek has had a slow start to life as a Red Devil
Donny van de Beek has had a slow start to life as a Red Devil / Michael Regan/Getty Images

When Manchester United lured Donny van de Beek away from Ajax for just £40m, plenty of fans looked on with jealous eyes at how the Red Devils had quietly secured a bargain for the 23-year-old.

Young, experienced at the top level, immensely talented and versatile, Van de Beek was the perfect addition to a squad being properly rebuilt by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. When he joined the club, expectation was high; perhaps even more so considering United didn't land anyone else as high profile that summer excluding Edinson Cavani, who was a last-minute free transfer.

Five months on, however, the Dutchman has played just 918 minutes of football and been reduced to cameo appearances, managing just two Premier League starts.

Stop panicking - Van de Beek isn't going anywhere
Stop panicking - Van de Beek isn't going anywhere / Pool/Getty Images

This drawn out bedding in process has prompted masses of reactionary response online at Van de Beek's lack of playing time. Solskjaer has addressed the unrest, admitting he 'isn't happy' at the lack of opportunities which is of course understandable, considering he was captain material at Ajax.

Perhaps we would've seen more of the Dutchman had Paul Pogba not enjoyed a revival in form, or should Scott McTominay and Fred not have proven themselves to be a reliable pair of hands in big games. United's lack of an out-and-out defensive midfielder limits them from getting the best out of their creative midfielders, truthfully, but their improved performances also prove that the squad is responding well to Solskjaer's changes and that the increased competition for places is doing it's job.

And then there's Bruno Fernandes. People naturally equate Van de Beek to the role Fernandes occupies in the side, making it virtually impossible for him to get a look in or even impress when he does, considering the impact Fernandes has made.

Solskjaer and United are aware of the calibre of player that exists in Van de Beek and while it is important to bed him in slowly as they have done, there is actually room for him in the starting XI in the second half of the season - alongside Fernandes and Pogba.

People must stop seeing the two as the same player
People must stop seeing the two as the same player / Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

United's 3-2 FA Cup victory over Liverpool didn't do Van de Beek much justice, truthfully. Playing in the number ten role, viewers were quick to disregard him as 'useless' for his lack of impact, which was worsened when Fernandes eventually replaced him and bagged a winning free-kick.

It's not that simple, though. Watching him closely, it's easy to tell that the pair are two completely different players, despite occupying similar positions. While Fernandes does his best work on the ball for United, demanding possession and driving attacks forward with key passes and blistering shots from all angles, Van de Beek is much more subtle in his impact.

The Dutchman is key in starting and finishing attacks. Sharp and swift short passing to the right man helps to break down tight spaces, while his off the ball movement in advanced areas allows for teammates to take the shot, make the final pass or even feed it back to him where he can bag the goal. At a glance, it appears he is less impactful and doesn't offer enough to dislodge Fernandes or Pogba, when actually he could compliment them perfectly.

A start against Southampton in November was an impressive outing, and his recent FA Cup performance against Watford was an example of how his tempo can pull the strings. Deploying Van de Beek's space creation and finishing touches in tight areas alongside Pogba's long passing and Fernandes' authority in the final third is a seriously exciting avenue that is yet to be explored.

While Fernandes is sometimes a touch too keen to fire a shot from distance, or Pogba finds himself looking for the Hollywood pass to no avail, having Van de Beek occupy a wide position - but being allowed to roam freely and use the space - gives United another dimension of attack, and eliminates the need to rely on fast counters.

Of course this sacrifices pace and width on the counter, but United lack a right winger to occupy that role anyway. As the season draws on, games are coming thick and fast.

Solskjaer must use the busy end to the campaign to explore this new avenue and allow Van de Beek the time to shine alongside his creative colleagues, in order to wield the best results.