Van de Beek on the bench: Why is Solskjaer snubbing Man Utd's star summer signing?

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Donny van de Beek Manchester United 2020-21
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The Dutchman has only started two League Cup games since arriving from Ajax and it could be some time yet before he gets regular game time

Manchester United’s inconsistent start to the season has prompted many questions. Why can’t they win at home? What’s wrong with the defence? Can Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes play in the same midfield?

However, the most pressing question – or "mystery", as Gary Neville put it – is: why can't Donny van de Beek get a start?

The Dutchman only set foot on the pitch at Old Trafford on Saturday evening to perform warm-down drills along with the rest of the unused substitutes.

While Chelsea manager Frank Lampard showed off five recruits from this summer’s spending spree, his Manchester United counterpart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer picked a team of players who were all at the club last season, with Edinson Cavani and Van de Beek having to settle for places on the bench.

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Cavani, of course, made a late cameo but Van de Beek cut a soggy, forlorn figure throughout, left sitting in the south stand behind the dugout for the entire game. 

While the 23-year-old was watching United fail dismally to break down a defensive Chelsea side, his former club, Ajax, racked up a record-breaking 13-0 win away to VVV. Van de Beek would have been forgiven for wondering if he should have stayed in his native Netherlands.

In fairness, the Dutchman has settled in quickly at United. He gets on well with his new team-mates and has been credited with giving the dressing room a lift – but he’s yet to be given a real opportunity to make a similarly positive impact on the field.

He’s started just twice, in the League Cup, and been afforded just 59 minutes of game time in the Premier League. Solskjaer is already getting fed up with being asked "Where's Donny?"

The manager keeps insisting that Van de Beek's time will come – but when?

“He’s an absolutely top footballer and personality, humble and hard-working but eager to play more," Solskjaer acknowledged. "You'll see him throughout the season. It's going be a long, long season and you'll see him."

It's a fair point, of course. Sensible use of the squad is going to be integral to United's hopes of success in what is set to be the most gruelling and intensive season in football history. 

Solskjaer has already admitted that he made a mistake in rushing Paul Pogba into action, as the Frenchman was still feeling the effects of Covid-19.

However, Van de Beek has had no such health issues. He is fit and ready to play, so it's hardly surprising that some United fans are questioning Solskjaer's handling of a player who scored on his United debut against Crystal Palace.

After all, how is Van de Beek supposed to adapt and improve is he isn’t given the chance to play? It's certainly baffling that even with Pogba relegated to the bench, the former Ajax ace can't find a way into Solskjaer's starting line-up.

On a basic level, there’s some understanding as to why Solskjaer named the same side against Chelsea that had beaten Newcastle the weekend before.

However, given they were struggling to break down a team that had conceded more Premier League goals away from home (42) than any other team since the start of last season, why wasn’t Van de Beek summoned from the bench?

“What was he signed for? I listened to Solskjaer’s press conference and he had nothing but praise for Donny,” former Ajax coach Danny Blind told Ziggo Sport. “Yet, he did not even give him a brief cameo.

"He bought him to beef up the squad. Why not use that squad depth?”

Donny van de Beek Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Danny Blind Manchester United GFX

Blind’s right. Cavani, who had not played any competitive football since March, was deemed a suitable substitute but Van de Beek wasn’t.

It was a strange decision with United lacking creativity in midfield; the kind of dynamism, cleverness and subtlety that Van de Beek was essentially signed to provide.

Part of the explanation for his exclusion could be down to what former Manchester United defender Patrice Evra referred to as "safety-jacket football".

Fred and McTominay have been preferred in midfield for the last three games because they serve as a much-needed shield for the backline, meaning there is only one other place available and Bruno Fernandes is the obvious choice to fill it.

Indeed, it would be a surprise if the trio don't start again when Julian Nagelsmann’s RB Leipzig side turn up at Old Trafford on Wednesday night for a crucial Champions League clash.

There’s an undoubted air of caution around Solskjaer's team selections at the moment, which is understandable to some extent, given United were hammered 6-1 at home by Tottenham just three weeks ago.

They may have beaten Paris Saint-Germain last Tuesday but Solskjaer has vivid memories of what happened the last time United beat the Ligue 1 champions away from home.

After their famous 2019 triumph at the Parc des Princes, the Red Devils managed to win only two of their following 12 fixtures, losing eight. Solskjaer does not want – and cannot afford – a repeat of that form.

So, with the big games now coming thick and fast, it’s hard to see when Solskjaer will deem it appropriate to start Van de Beek. If the versatile midfielder has to wait until the next League Cup game, then it’s going to be a very long eight weeks for the £40 million ($52m) man.

However, Solskjaer is adamant that Van de Beek's time will come. He says that the summer signing will have a “very big” role to play in United's season.

He just needs to be patient. And the fans do too. In the words of McTominay: "It’s not time to panic for Donny."

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