On a night that saw Manchester United produce one of their finest performances of the season, it was going to take an exceptional individual performance to stand out – and that’s what Donny van de Beek produced.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side secured a 4-1 win over their Champions League opponents Istanbul Basaksehir, and Van de Beek didn’t directly contribute to any of the four goals. Yet, it was his impressive work behind those final telling touches to United’s silky attacking play that had fans and pundits alike lauding the the Dutchman’s display.
He was never likely to be the man to deliver the goals given that he started game in a midfield two alongside Fred and behind an exciting attacking quartet of Anthony Martial, Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani. However, his role in United’s build-up play was crucial.
United spent large moments of the evening controlling possession and trying to bypass their Turkish opponents who seemed happy to sit in a deep low block. This sort of attack-vs-defence situation has caused Solskjaer’s side issues in the past, with their often slow and methodical build-up play lacking the penetration required to break these sides down.
However, what Van de Beek provided from the middle was fewer touches and instead, more piercing quick passes through the lines before Basaksehir’s defenders had time to anticipate the next move. A prime example of this can be seen in the below image, captured leading up to United’s second goal of the night.
Here, Van de Beek picks up possession and might have been inclined to lay the ball off to Fred on his right.
He instead fires a quick threaded pass through the window of two defending players and into the feet of Fernandes. This quick and clever through pass sparked an exquisite passage of play during which just four further touches between Fernandes, Cavani and Rashford concluded with the ball ending up in the net.
Van de Beek’s one-touch passing was very much a common theme throughout the performance. No matter where he was on the pitch, there was a clear focus on moving the ball quickly. This might have only equated to short five-yard passes at times, but his ability to always see the next move in the sequence for Solskjaer’s side meant ball progression was much swifter than what we have seen in other matches against similar level opposition in recent times.
It wasn’t just the former Ajax midfielder’s ability on the ball that impressed, but also his capacity to drop into positions that either opened up space for his team-mates, or created good passing options for other United players in possession.
In the below image, he is asking for a pass from Cavani who is yet to receive the ball, while he himself is already thinking about the pass he is going to play if Cavani lays it off to him.
He received the pass and again with his first touch played the ball behind the defence and into the space for Mason Greenwood to run onto in a move that led to the fourth goal of the night.
Beyond all this good work when United were in possession, he also worked in tandem with Fred to provide the necessary defensive cover needed to allow United’s attackers the freedom they needed inside the attacking third.
The 23-year-old may not have had a spot in the starting XI had either Paul Pogba or Scott McTominay been available for selection, but his performance on the night certainly did no harm to his chances of featuring on a more regular basis going forward.