The stoppage following the clash of heads between Issa Diop and Anthony Martial afforded Ole Gunnar Solskjaer the time for some one-on-one coaching with Donny van de Beek. Solskjaer was animated and appeared to demand more urgency. Michael Carrick also sidled over. Whatever the message was, it did not get through.
Van de Beek was substituted against West Ham at half-time in the Premier League fixture two months ago and lasted longer on Tuesday night, at least. This was still a more chastening evening for the 23-year-old in his brief Manchester United career than at the London Stadium on December 5, still his last league start.
From the first moments, Van de Beek was out of kilter with his teammates and Carrick had to collar him for straying into the right-back area. Van de Beek politely advised Fred to pass quicker at the start of the first-half but towards the end of it gave Mason Greenwood short shrift as frustration mounted.
Viewers did not have to wait for ’34’ to flash up on the board to know Van de Beek’s number was up when Solskjaer finally summoned Bruno Fernandes in the 72nd minute. Van de Beek, 23, has the misfortune of being compared with the phenomenal Fernandes by virtue of their playmaker status and Solskjaer will have to change tact with United’s major summer acquisition.
Van de Beek would have been better off operating from one of the deep-lying midfield roles occupied by Fred and Nemanja Matic. That was too cautious and Solskjaer acknowledged that by hooking Matic for the goal-getting Scott McTominay at the same time Van de Beek made way. McTominay’s rifled winner marked his seventh goal of the campaign. Van de Beek is still on one.
In September, October and November, it was a case of why is Solskjaer not playing Van de Beek? In December, January and now February, it is why would Solskjaer play Van de Beek? That is some shift and the Henrikh Mkhitaryan comparisons are redundant. Mkhitaryan took three months to get going.
“I thought in the first-half we and Donny played really well,” Solskjaer said. “We created spaces, there were one or two where he was part of that. He did his job neat and tidy, he had a half chance when Alex [Telles] pulled it back to him.
“Of course, second-half the whole team fell off a little bit and we just wanted to make a few changes.”
Van de Beek’s recall coincided with the start of Paul Pogba’s lay-off with a thigh injury which could deprive United of the Frenchman for the rest of February. There is a school of thought Van de Beek could thrive if or when Pogba departs in the summer, which would give Solskjaer the leverage to reassign Van de Beek to the No.6 or No.8 role Pogba primarily operates in.
The caveat is Van de Beek has started in a midfield axis just three times for United.