Donny van de Beek has had to wait for his chance but he does not mind.
“I just work hard every day,” he said on the eve of Paris Saint-Germain’s visit to Old Trafford in the Champions League. “I know that I can give the team something extra and can help the team a lot. I was just patient.”
It took nine games for the marquee signing of Manchester United’s summer to make his first Premier League start but that finally came in Sunday’s comeback win over Southampton, a few days after being trusted to play from the off in the triumph over Istanbul Basaksehir.
And while Edinson Cavani – the window’s other big-name new arrival – has taken all the headlines in recent days for the right and the wrong reasons, Van de Beek quietly went about his business and seized his opportunities to impress.
There were doubts upon his arrival as to whether he would suit a more reserved role than the No 10 position he excelled in at Ajax, even though he spent much of his final year in Amsterdam playing a similar position.
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But operating as part of deep-lying double pivot against Basaksehir, Van de Beek won more tackles than any other United player and in possession, he laid the foundations for one of the most assertive performances of the season from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side.
Van de Beek was more advanced at St Mary’s, where only the vastly improved Fred was a more effective presser and created more shots on goal, while his Brazilian team-mate had the advantage of playing regularly in that role for the best part of two years now.
There is room for improvement. Van de Beek’s passing from a deeper midfield role has generally been neat and tidy but nothing to write home about, but Solskjaer can rely on Bruno Fernandes for more ambitious playmaking.
Fernandes’ exemplary form means that Van de Beek’s chances of an extended spell in the No 10 role appear remote, but any doubts about his versatility are starting to subside.
And having waited so long for a regular run, Van de Beek has no issue with filling in wherever he is required, nor does he believe that he cannot play in the same team as the Portuguese.
“It’s fine,” he said, when asked about his compatibility with Fernandes and tactical redeployment. “Also in Ajax before, I played a lot of different positions – as an eight, a 10, even a number 6 – so I’m used to it. I play in a lot of different positions.”
Solskjaer, meanwhile, sees Van de Beek’s versatility reflected in much of his squad.
“I think there’s only one position that we can only say that’s between Dean and David,” he said. “The rest of them have potential to play in many other positions. Like Donny has just spoken about it, how flexible and versatile he is.”
The question now is not so much about whether Van de Beek can play with Fernandes, but whether he retains his place as Paul Pogba returns from injury over the coming weeks.
Read more: ‘We can play together’: Bruno Fernandes can thrive alongside Donny van de Beek in Manchester United’s midfield
Pogba is nearing a return from the ankle injury which has kept him out of United’s match days squads for the past three games. Solskjaer said on Tuesday that his squad almost has a clean bill of health, save for Luke Shaw – still recovering from a hamstring problem – and long-term absentee Phil Jones.
Yet given how underwhelming Pogba’s performances were before his absence, it would be difficult to justify an immediate return to Solskjaer’s line-up. His last start came in the insipid 1-0 defeat to Arsenal. United have won four of their five games since.
Even if Pogba does make a rapid return, longer-term questions about his future are starting to re-emerge, with his contract set to expire at the end of next season. If no extension is agreed, this summer may be United’s best chance to avoid losing him on a free transfer for a second time.
At least Pogba’s long-term successor could already be in place. Van de Beek may have to show yet more patience, but that patience is gradually beginning to pay off.
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