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Pitch to Post: What's going on with Donny van de Beek at Manchester United?

Having not started a Premier League game for the club, just what is going on for midfielder Donny van de Beek at Manchester United?

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

The £39m signing from Ajax has found playing time hard to come by this season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, playing just 59 minutes in the Premier League, with United themselves struggling domestically.

Sky Sports’ Gary Neville questioned the use Van de Beek in commentary following the 0-0 draw with Chelsea on Saturday, saying: “He doesn’t seem to be at the forefront of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s plans in every game. It’s a bit of a mystery.”

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But in this week’s Pitch to Post Review podcast, Jasper Taylor is joined by Dharmesh Sheth and Gerard Brand to discuss the Netherlands international’s role, why he may be a victim of circumstance, and we also ask is playing two defensive midfielders really the ‘Manchester United way?’

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A victim of circumstance?

Could Van de Beek’s omission be more about saving a desperate situation, than the 23-year-old’s quality? Dharmesh Sheth thinks so…

“I don’t know whether it is reluctance from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, I just think Van de Beek has become a victim of circumstance this season,” Sheth told the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast. “Solskjaer was asked the question after the game, and he promised he would get games because of the packed schedule, but I think he will have to be patient.

Donny van de Beek minutes this season

“I think people hoped Manchester United would pick up where they left off last season; they had a fantastic run of form when football resumed, with Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba playing together, and all was well at Old Trafford.

“I just think that 6-1 defeat to Tottenham, coupled with the defeat to Crystal Palace on the opening day, and the performance against Brighton, has changed things for United.

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“Many thought that when Van de Beek came in, it was going to be two players from Bruno, Pogba and Van de Beek in that position. Now, because of these results, you would think Solskjaer has decided to give the defence more protection by picking Scott McTominay and Fred, and as a result, instead of it being two players from Bruno, Pogba and Van de Beek, it’s now one. That place, given current form and profile, is always going to be filled by Bruno Fernandes.

“That is why Van de Beek has found limited opportunities, even more so now, because of the deployment of the two holding midfielders. United fans would love to see Donny van de Beek given an extended run in the team, but some I have spoken to have just been puzzled by the actual transfer itself, with United appearing to strengthen a position in which they already seemed strong.

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

“It’s difficult to argue against what Solskjaer has done since the 6-1 defeat by Tottenham, however. They won late at Newcastle, beat PSG, and kept that much-needed clean sheet at home to Chelsea.

“You wonder how now Van de Beek gets his chance, unless there’s an injury. I’m sure Van de Beek did not foresee coming into United into this situation, but I genuinely think it’s because of circumstance – the United results and the need for change – that he has found opportunities hard to come by, rather than his ability.

“I think pre-Bruno they were playing those holding midfielders, and since Bruno came in they have tried to accommodate him and Pogba, which did work when football resumed initially.

“To me, a defence is only as good as the protection the defence is given. It’s not always down to the ability of the defence, but what is in front in midfield, the ability to protect them, and that’s what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is thinking right now.”

Defensive football… surely not the ‘United way’?

So, United are seemingly trying to protect their defence, but is playing two defensive midfielders really the ‘Manchester United way?’ And does that even exist any more?

“I’m going to go back to Fergie – people like to remember that time as United playing free-flowing, attacking football,” said Gerard Brand on the Pitch to Post Review podcast. “It wasn’t that a lot of the time. One thing Fergie used to do, particularly away at sides not even in the top six, or even at home to a top-six team, is set up and make it a stinker in games he knew would be difficult.

“He had the authority and presence to convince his players that would get them results, convince them that although they have a better 11 than their opponents on paper, if they set up this way they have a better chance of winning this game.

“It’s very romantic to say: ‘Go at them and beat them with your quality, go toe-to-toe’ but that doesn’t always work. I know we want entertaining football but I think this approach is necessary at the moment for United.”

But has the varied style of managers since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure made it difficult to form an identity at Old Trafford?

“Many clubs knew what Manchester United were about under Fergie,” Sheth added. “I just think since he left, and David Gill left, they employed four managers who share very different philosophies. They all picked players who fit the manager’s identity, not the identity of the squad.

“So what Solskjaer has is players from Fergie’s era, Moyes’ era, Van Gaal’s era, Mourinho’s era, and his own players. It can’t be easy to try and get a squad and philosophy going when you have so many players left from different eras, to try and then really focus on what this United way is.”

To hear more, download the Sky Sports Pitch to Post Review podcast on Apple | Spotify

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