The Dutch summer signature can validate passports and can be the bridge between defense and Bruno Fernandes that United desperately needs
After an entertaining attack in the 4-1 win over Istanbul Basaksehir on Tuesday night, Manchester United fans might be excited to see their side take on Southampton on Sunday. That would almost certainly be the case if it weren’t for the team’s consistent inconsistency. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad routinely pursued one promising performance with a disappointing one in the next.
Donny van de Beek’s move to United didn’t go exactly as many had anticipated for a £ 40m move that was used sparingly in rotation and European games, but his performance on Tuesday was so good that the manager will have difficulty justifying him out much longer.
Bruno Fernandes will always be the star of the show on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, but Van de Beek, pulling the strings from further back, could be the most efficient way for United to get the ball out of the back. His map of defeating Basaksehir shows how busy he was with the game (Van de Beek is No.. 34):
While Fred’s most frequent passport choice was almost always the safe option, shortly after Van de Beek (14 times), far after Alex Telles (11 times) or back to Harry Maguire (10 times), Van de Beek was looking for a pass that goes beyond the player closest to him, and although he sometimes only has a five or ten meter difference, those passes have been played either vertically or sideways, making United a little less predictable.
The way Van de Beek quickly receives the ball and then pushes it to a teammate ensures that the passing pace stays high and prevents opposing defenders from suppressing attacks by slightly anticipating positions to Block options.
His choices can make all the difference. Downstairs, Van de Beek receives in space, takes a touch, and immediately fires a pass through the lines to Fernandes.
Fernandes has just enough weight on the pass to turn it towards Edinson Cavani before sprinting to get the return.
Cavani plays the return of the double, Fernandes sits back on the ball and returns a pass, leaving Marcus Rashford behind the defense.
Rashford scores, but is only offside. Van de Beek’s involvement in this goal is the pass before the pass before the pass, but his positioning, constant movement and quick thinking before it make it extremely difficult for the defenders to anticipate his next action. If you opt for the riskier forward pass through the center of the field over a safe, sideways-facing ball, United’s possession is reinforced.
Solskjaer’s biggest problem in adjusting Van de Beek to the same midfield as Fernandes is maintaining defensive solidity. He started Tuesday with Fred in a 4-2-3-1 in a lower midfield position that allowed him to dictate the game, which Fred also tried, but worse. Do United need two players to do a job?
Fred’s pass is almost always sideways and backwards, with attempts at more direct play often resulting in possession of the ball being turned over to the opposition. If Van de Beek were preferred in this role, he could better adjust the pace and fill the gap between defense and attack, and help get the ball to Fernandes earlier with bolder, more accurate forward distribution.
Next to a more defensive player like Nemanja Matic or an aggressive tackler like Scott McTominay, Van de Beek could act as an eight rather than a six, taking advantage of his box-to-box race and giving United an extra body forward.
United’s line-up for the Southampton game will reveal more about Solskjaer’s current tactical planning. Telles’ positioning on the left wing in possession allowed Anthony Martial to move in from the left. Aaron Wan Bissaka made fewer attack runs on the right wing and played a role between full-back and center-back like Kyle Walker in Manchester City. The average position map is illustrated below with Telles (27), Martial (9), Cavani (7), Fernandes (18) and Wan-Bissaka (29). .
Cavani’s positioning is also noteworthy. Outside of possession, he pushes up onto the field to give United focus and space by pulling defenders closer to their own penalty area. Often times, when a midfielder had the ball, it would fall low to offer a shorter option and allow the wide strikers to run after, which explains his lower-than-expected average touch position.
United’s fourth goal was an example of that intelligent center-forward game and Van de Beek’s position and situational awareness. Matic gets in half the turn and then shifts a pass towards Van de Beek who was floating between the lines to give a forward option.
Matic opts for the longer pass to Cavani (orange arrow below), who approached the ball from an advanced position. The striker puts it on Van de Beek, who already knows the space is big.
A classic walk for the third man on the training ground is perfectly executed. Van de Beek performs a pass to Mason Greenwood on the right wing.
Greenwood runs after and gets help preparing for the target from Daniel James, but the real creators were Cavani, Van de Beek and Matic.
Southampton will offer a far more complicated and difficult test than Basaksehir on Sunday afternoon, and the high line that Ralph Hasenhuttl uses could fit Paul Pogba’s long-distance pass better (if fit) than other players, but a midfield from Pogba, Van de Beek and Fernandes are one without balance.
There is Solskjaer’s dilemma: It’s not how he makes them all on the same team, it’s how he makes them all happy. Van de Beek has been so good in his recent appearances that at some point the manager will have no choice but to find a starting XI with the Dutch international who is responsible for orchestrating the game from the depths. That moment may already have come.
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World news – AU – Tactics: The game that Donny van de Beek has proven is exactly what Manchester United need in midfield
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