There was little to admire about Manchester United here at Old Trafford, but the strength of their bench was certainly impressive enough.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought on Edinson Cavani for his debut, Paul Pogba and Mason Greenwood. Not a bad supporting cast. The United manager still had Nemanja Matic, Axel Tuanzebe and goalkeeper Dean Henderson in reserve.
Then there was United’s seventh substitute. The blond-haired Dutchman sitting forlornly in the rain waiting for his chance to shine. It has been a peculiar time for Donny van de Beek since swapping a starting spot at Ajax, who enjoyed a 13-0 win on Saturday, for a place on the fringes at United.
Donny van de Beek has struggled to get game-time due to the competition at Old Trafford
What should have been an exciting new chapter in the 23-year-old’s career has turned into a period of frustration bordering on stagnation. United’s £40million signing has made just two starts, in the Carabao Cup against Luton Town and Brighton. Four Premier League appearances as a substitute have produced a total of 61 minutes, plus a two-minute cameo in the Champions League win over Paris Saint-Germain.
There is little doubt that Van de Beek is a victim of the short pre-season. He has not had as long as many new signings to adapt to his new environment, and there is a feeling at United that he needs to build himself up physically for the demands of English football.
But his lack of involvement has only added weight to the argument that United needed to strengthen in other areas instead of adding to their extensive midfield options.
Solskjaer acknowledged the issue before Saturday’s draw, saying: ‘Donny’s fit enough but it’s competition for places. It’s a new league and it’s giving him time to settle and adjust to his new team-mates. He’s eager to play more but it’s going to be a long season and you’ll see him.’
What followed was another evening on the sidelines. Van de Beek only got on the pitch after the final whistle when he took part in a warm-down session with the other unused subs.
His agent, Sjaak Swart, had voiced exasperation last month, pointing out that Van de Beek scored off the bench on his debut against Crystal Palace and was involved again when United won their next League game with a late penalty at Brighton.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer says Van de Beek is taking time to adjust to a new league since his move
Danny Blind, the former Holland coach and father of ex-United player Daley, echoed the mood in his country after Van de Beek was again surplus to requirements for his club having played 90 minutes twice for the national side against Mexico and Italy in the last international break.
‘What was he signed for?’ Blind demanded to know on Dutch TV. ‘I listened to Solskjaer and he had nothing but praise for Donny. Yet he didn’t even give him a cameo. He bought him to beef up the squad. Why not use that squad depth?’
The games don’t get any easier. United face Red Bull Leipzig on Wednesday followed by Arsenal, Istanbul Basaksehir and Everton. Van de Beek is desperate to play a part, but for now the wait goes on.