Donny van de Beek proved in 45 minutes of Manchester United’s 4-1 defeat to Watford that he deserves an extended run in the starting XI after he was the sole positive from the otherwise completely woeful performance at Vicarage Road.
Van de Beek was introduced at half-time in place of Scott McTominay, with United already trailing 2-0. This was just his third Premier League appearance of the season, with his two previous outings totalling a measly 16 minutes, but he was easily his team’s best player.
With precious little recent match practice and rock bottom confidence, it would have been easy for Van de Beek to shrink in the circumstances and be swallowed up by the game.
But he did exactly the opposite. He had scored within five minutes of coming on, giving United a lifeline they probably didn’t deserve, and was central to creating the chances that could have put his team back level until Watford ran out of sight in stoppage time.
Statistically, Van de Beek created three chances during his 45 minutes on the pitch, more than any of his teammates who had been out there much longer.
His quality is not in doubt. He was crucial to the Ajax side that got within seconds of reaching the Champions League final in 2019 and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or that year. But the Dutchman has never, in almost 18 months at Old Trafford, had a proper chance.
A debut in a United defeat back in August 2020 produced a goal that showed plenty of promise. Yet he didn’t start a Premier League game until the end of November and by the end of the season had started just four times in the league – half of those were in May.
Even after a summer fitness programme that was expected to make him more physically prepared for English football, which had perhaps been lacking a year ago, Van de Beek has featured even less.
He has not been left out of the squad at all but stayed on the bench as an unused substitute in nine of United’s first 10 league games of the campaign – his arrival off the bench in the Manchester derby earlier this month was loudly cheered as United fans made a point to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Whoever is in charge when United next take to the pitch, there is no reason for Van de Beek not to start. No one has played well enough to actively keep him out of the team, while his bright appearance at Watford has shown that he can make a difference if given a chance.