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The curious case of Van de Beek

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When Manchester United swooped to purchase Donny van de Beek for a reported fee of € 35.1 million, it was considered a masterstroke as they had managed to snap a brilliant young talent for what was believed to be a low fee. United had also managed to win the race for the Dutchman against Real Madrid who had also a keen interest in the youngster.

More than a year later the € 35.1 million fee seems to be a waste of money as the Dutchman has failed to break into the team. Unlike the usual scenario, it is not even the player’s fault for the most part, in fact, he has played so little that it is very difficult to predict on stats that whether he is a fit for United or not. For example, the Dutchman has been part of three games for United an EFL cup defeat against West Ham, a Champions League defeat against Young Boys in which he was withdrawn at half-time, and in the 4-1 win against Newcastle where he came off the bench.

The sample size is so small that it is very difficult to pinpoint his weakness and strengths.

In his start against Young Boys, he had a good 45 minutes as he completed 23 passes out of 24 and won one tackle, blocked one shot and made two interceptions. However, he was hauled off at half-time as United had to tweak their tactics after Aaron Wan Bissaka was sent off.

Former Manchester United manager Louis Van Gaal had said that Van de Beek needs to play regularly, which he hasn’t been able to do since his arrival at the club. Even in his three starts statistics have pointed out his weakness like in the EFL cup defeat against West Ham United in which he failed to close down Manuel Lanzini for the solitary goal in the game. 


In his first season at United, he played a total of 1,456 minutes and his stats are nothing to boast about. In the entirety of the season, he only created three Goal Creating Actions (GCA) and 23 Shot Creating Actions (SCA). He managed to score one goal and got two assists in the entire season and his underwhelming performances led him to be named in ESPN’s worst 11 of the 2020-21 season.

And goal scoring was his best asset which has tempted United to sign him up but surely this has not worked out as he has not had the appropriate minutes in the team.

Donny van de Beek playing time 

Season Minutes Played
2018-19 4,116
2019-20 3,171
2020-21 1,456




If we look at Van de Beek’s time at Ajax we can clearly see why United signed him.

Consider this according to Opta, Van de Beek scored 17 goals and assisted 13 in the 2018-19 season. That season Ajax had scored 57 goals which means that the Dutchman was involved in 52.6 per cent of goals that his team scored that season according to Opta. At one point in that season,  he went on a run in which he scored five goals and three assists in seven games 

Even before that, Van de Beek was making headlines in the Netherlands. In a match against Standard Liege in December 2016, he made 122 touches which was a record for an Ajax midfielder in the Europa League.

In short, the Dutchman was a top creator who could provide the goals and assists, a Kevin de Bruyne type of player, with added poaching instincts in the box. He had all the tools to be a world-beater. 

According to Smarterscout’s rating during the 2019-20 season, he was given a 99 rating for receiving the ball in the opposition half and a 94 rating for link-up play. This shows that he had intelligent movement in the box and could link up well with his teammates.

His rating of 86 and 87 for xF from ball progression and xG from shot creation also stood up against the best in his position. His underlying stats clearly showed that he is a forward-thinking midfielder, regularly breaking forward from the middle of the park to finish instinctively in the box, a trait eerily similar to United’s talisman, Bruno Fernandes.



Due to the duplicity of his game with Fernandes and Pogba, the first thing that one can observe is his lack of playing time for United. It is a fact that there are many players who only play better when they play more and this could be said for Van de Beek. Granted he had some underwhelming performances last year but that can be the case if a player is rusty and is living on bits and pieces of substitute appearances across the season.

His injuries have also hampered him which caused him to give EURO 2020 a miss. Whether an outstanding performance at the Euros would have helped his cause for more minutes at United can’t be said,

He did however had a full pre-season because of that and he was more than impressed in the friendly matches. However, according to Ole, he is not yet to be trusted as was evident when he opted to start a partially fit McTominay and Fred who had just returned from Copa America in the season opener against Leeds United.

United ultimately won that match 5-1 and thus the question of his absence didn’t gather much news. However, after the start, United’s season has been less than smooth and fans have started to raise questions about his absences from the team. United are five points adrift of leader Chelsea in the Premier League but face a high-on-confidence side in Liverpool on Sunday and anything less than a win would further aggravate the fans.

It is hard to say whether Van de Beek can turn United’s season around but based on the team’s performances he surely deserves a chance.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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