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Getting to know Donny van de Beek | Finding his best role

We talked to Manchester United blog The Busby Babe about the Toffees’ January loan signing

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

While Everton have been in a tough spot for long stretches of this season so far, the end of the winter transfer window might very well be the start of something new at Goodison Park. Hiring former England international and former Chelsea player and later boss Frank Lampard to replace Rafa Benitez was a good and thoughtful hire in my mind, and both of his first two signings are exciting players too.

While Dele Alli has signed permanently from Tottenham Hotspur, he is, of course, far from the only new arrival on Merseyside. Deadline Day found the young Dutch international and former Ajax Amsterdam starlet Donny van de Beek, still just 24-years-old, also coming to Goodison Park - if only for the rest of the season - from Manchester United, where he has, since his arrival in the summer of 2020, largely languished upon that team’s bench.

When healthy and consistently utilized, Donny van de Beek has proven himself to be a serious tool in the middle of the pitch in either an offensive or defensive position. While this skill and ability has been on limited display with United, it was frequently seen when he was with Ajax. How van de Beek is utilized at Everton under the tutelage and strategy of Frank Lampard will be interesting and of great consequence to the Toffees and their final league table position indeed.

Having signed van de Beek on loan from Manchester United for the rest of the season, we had a chat with Colin Damms of SB Nation’s dedicated Manchester United blog — The Busby Babe — to discuss what kind of player Everton are getting from the Red Devils, and what Donny van de Beek will provide this club with for the rest of the year.

RBM: First off, does this move come as much of a surprise for United supporters given that Donny van de Beek has never been given much of a chance with the club that signed him since his purchase in the summer of 2020?

Not too much of a surprise. There’s been plenty of fans and the media questioning his misuse, and it’s clearly frustrated him but the way that United play it seemed unlikely he’d be a regular. That he hardly got any time at all shows an overreliance on Bruno Fernandes and an inability to modify the midfield without a proper holding player. It seemed inevitable after a while that the best option would be to find somewhere for him to get regular time and experience at this level.

RBM: Where, positionally speaking, did United see the best out of Donny van de Beek when he did find time on the pitch for them?

It’s hard to say because he hardly ever got to play for an extended period, but any sort of advanced role where he can lay a pass off and move into the box off the ball would probably best serve his strengths. He always looked dangerous making runs in the final third, he’s got a decent eye for goal, and takes advantage of space between defenders. He got the chance to show that because most of the time he was a late substitute when United were either in control or pressing for a goal.

I think playing next to Dominic Calvert-Lewin would be really interesting to watch. This is, however, the same kind of role Dele Alli likes to play, off the striker, so it may be difficult finding a balance if both of them are to play.

RBM: What do you think went wrong for him with United over the past season and a half, and might United be interested in bringing him back to stay and contribute should he prove himself successful with Everton?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer brought him in because he wanted A: a creative player that could fill in a couple different roles and B: someone who could long term allow him to try different midfield setups. Playing the diamond formation a few times last season was evidence of that, as was his brief flirtation with 4-3-3 before Cristiano Ronaldo came in.

The problem was early last season and this season United hit a bad run of form that threatened Solskjaer’s job, his damage control answer last season was McFred, to buy time for the forwards to hit form, and eventually Pogba playing wide left to add creativity. Neither plan left much room for Donny. This season McFred failed, and Donny wasn’t seen as a suitable deep-lying midfielder to come in for either. All of that on top of Donny’s cameos and few starts being pretty unremarkable led to him riding the bench.

I think United will be curious regarding what roles Donny can play in a Premier League side, but ultimately he still doesn’t address the most pressing midfield needs, and he’s not good enough to unseat Bruno Fernandes. It depends on the manager that takes over in the summer as well, so if it is Erik ten Hag, I’d expect Donny to have some sort of role. Otherwise this may just be an audition for another move in the near future.

RBM: What will the new boss likely have to work on with Donny van de Beek over the course of the rest of this season for him to improve across the board as a player?

His physicality was talked about as one of his problems adapting to the Premier League, but there’s not a large body of evidence to really know that anyway. So I guess just working on playing regularly in a system to start with. Probably playing out of the final third, passing forward rather than sideways, and doing more to boss a game in the middle of the park rather than running beyond the forwards.

RBM: What are some of the positives that you have seen that Donny van de Beek brings to a team when he is active and involved?

Definitely playing in the final third and making runs into the box like I said earlier. He’s decent in quick passing as well, and a couple of times he linked up well to set up counter-attacking goals.

Our thanks to Colin for his time.