Donny van de Beek is at a crossroads in his Old Trafford career. After being cast aside by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ralf Rangnick during his first two seasons, Van de Beek has finally been given his opportunity.
An early-season injury meant the Dutchman had to wait a little longer than planned for the minutes Erik ten Hag – his former mentor at Ajax – promised him. However, despite starting the last two games, Van de Beek has so far been unable to put forward his best case for more regular appearances.
Ten Hag was forthright in his assessment following the Aston Villa defeat, while Rio Ferdinand seemingly agrees that Van de Beek will have a better chance at succeeding in the number 10 position. His role (or non-role) in the United team has been a hot topic at Old Trafford and beyond ever since his big move two summers ago.
During his latest press conference, Ten Hag said: “I know that he can do better because I know [him] very well, but he delivered what I expected in terms of positioning and pressing, in terms of transition. But I think he can do more and that’s his biggest quality, he can be more of a threat to an opponent’s goal.
“I don’t know [why Van de Beek has struggled]. I can only talk about my time here. In my time here, he’s performing well in the game-time we gave him.”
When asked to name Van de Beek’s best position shortly after his appointment, Ten Hag said: “He can do both [sit deep and play high]. I know that from the past, but his best position is his capabilities in the box of the opponents.
“Playing short behind the striker [is his best role]. He has a really good smell for being in the right position.”
Ferdinand echoed those thoughts during the latest episode of his FIVE podcast. He added: “I watched him, four or five times, and a few times in that Ajax team. I know it was a while ago now, but I watched him in those games and he was one of the three or four players who you thought was going to be value.
“You get him in and around the box and this guy can finish. The [main] problem with the way he’s been deployed is that he doesn’t ever get in the box, he doesn’t get the opportunity to show the best parts of his game.
“He hasn’t been able to find rhythm, momentum or form at all in a United shirt. The performance we saw wasn’t any different to what we’ve seen so far with United – no impact.
“The manager knows him, the manager knows what he’s capable of. He has not got anywhere near doing that while he’s been at Manchester United, or in England for that matter,”