United’s new midfield suggests a change in style is on the way
After a storming 14-game unbeaten run to finish third last season, Manchester United look as though they may have finally turned a corner.
The Red Devils have struggled to compete at the top consistently since last winning the Premier League in Sir Alex Ferguson’s swansong in 2013.
Though the odd cup has been won, United’s third placed finish last season was only the second-time the 21-time champions have finished in the top three in the seven seasons since Ferguson left.
Now under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, there’s a new wave of optimism at Old Trafford, with a squad full of youthful talent and promise.
Having signed the impressive Bruno Fernandes in January, the imminent arrival of Donny van de Beek from Ajax could be the latest piece in the puzzle as Solskjaer looks to make his side a Premier League force once more.
Who is Donny van de Beek?
The 23-year-old Dutch international is a star of the legendary Ajax youth programme and has spent the last three seasons pulling the strings for the Eredivisie giants. He shone as they reached the Champions League semi-finals in 2019.
A versatile box-to-box midfielder who is comfortable on the ball, Van de Beek can play in a number of roles in the middle of the park, including holding positions and more advanced roles, where he’s developed a habit for launching attacks and making darting runs into the box.
United have a enjoyed great success with Dutch players in the past too, with Ruud van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, Robin van Persie and Edwin van der Sar enjoying trophy-laden careers at Old Trafford.
What will Man United’s midfield look like?
Just like the arrival of Fernandes earlier this year, Van de Beek’s signing shows United are eager to develop how they play.
For all of their success at the end of last season, they remain more potent as a counter-attacking side.
In their 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Stamford Bridge in February, United had only 31% possession. Against Manchester City in March, that figure dropped to 28%.
But in their Europa League semi-final defeat to Sevilla, that figure rose to 47%, yet Solskjaer’s men couldn’t find a way to create good goalscoring opportunities.
And draws against Southampton and West Ham further evidenced that when opponents sit back, United struggle to break them down.
The arrival of Van de Beek then, a player adept on the ball and with a talent of a defence-splitting pass, is a sizable indicator that the Old Trafford outfit are ready to move away from their over-reliance on counter-attacking.
On paper at least, a midfield featuring Van de Beek, Fernandes and Paul Pogba should allow United enjoy more time on the ball, and in turn be more productive with it, particularly in the final third.
And with Nemanja Matic and Scott McTominay available to sit back, each of the trio should be afforded freedom to play the ball forward and best utilise their creative abilities to supply Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood.
The big loser in all of this could be Fred. The Brazilian hasn’t quite hit the heights expected since arriving from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018, and he may be moved on to offset United’s new acquisition. A move to Galatasaray has been touted.
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