Manchester United have signed a ‘bargain’ capable of ‘causing chaos’ in the final third with Bruno Fernandes

16 min read
Manchester United have signed a 'bargain' capable of 'causing chaos' in the final third with Bruno Fernandes

In the modern game, squad building can make the difference between success and failure.

If you plan properly and have clear player pathways that means you are able to replace players as they start to regress and have immediately put your team in a position to succeed.

Man United have signed Donny van de Beek from Ajax

If, however, those pathways and progressions are not in place then even the most successful clubs can see their periods of dominance cut short.

In recent seasons poor recruitment has been one of the main criticism levelled at Manchester United and their executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.

Those criticisms were allayed somewhat by the mid-season deal that saw the Portuguese talisman Bruno Fernandes move to Old Trafford in January of this year.

Now, however, with Champions League qualification secured there is an expectation that Manchester United make the next step in order to close the gap between themselves and rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.

Van de Beek is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first summer signing

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Van de Beek is Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s first summer signing

The attention of the fan base has been firmly on efforts by the club to sign the young England international winger Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.

Instead, however, the club announced a deal to sign the Dutch international midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax for a reported £35million.

How, though, does a player like Van de Beek fit into this United team?

Their Norwegian coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer appeared to settle on a 4-2-3-1 system with the aforementioned Bruno Fernandes firmly positioned as the first-choice ‘10’.

Donny van de Beek is not coming to Man United to play CDM – Dutch expert Marcel van der Kraan on where £35m signing will fit at Old Trafford

Van de Beek, however, is not a player who would traditionally play in that position behind the striker.

Instead, he tends to play as an 8 but one who is extremely progressive and who looks to make movements towards and even beyond the strikers.

In this tactical analysis we will examine the potential role that the Dutchman may have at Manchester United.

The first thing to note is the kind of positions that Van de Beek takes up in the pitch.


As you can see from the above heatmap Van de Beek is a midfield player who tends to play in a variety of different roles.

As a young player he was initially used as a 6 at the base of the midfield. As he has progressed, through the ranks at Ajax, however, he has gradually moved into a more offensive role.

With that said, his exact role in the midfield is very difficult to define. To an extent this is because there are very few midfield players who have the same kind of profile as the Dutchman.


Often we will see Van de Beek make vertical runs that break the last line of the opposition defence.

These runs are extremely effective for a team who faces opponents who look to play in either a deep block or a more aggressive medium block.

As the ball is progressed from the midfield areas we see runs of these nature prove key in creating overloads against the opposition defensive system.

In the image above we see an example of Van de Beek making a run of this type in order to provide a reference point for his team on a higher line.

As he makes this vertical run he occupies the attention of two defensive players and gives the man in possession the option to either play into his run or to play the pass on the outside where a teammate is now free to receive with no opposition cover.


The above metrics show, again, the particular profile that Van de Beek has and for a midfielder his 2019/20 performance with 1.75 shots per 90 are very impressive.

What is more impressive, however, is midfielder Van de Beek averaged 5.67 touches in the opposition penalty area per 90.

These numbers would be elite for a striker but for a midfielder these are incredible.


When making these runs Van de Beek offers a genuine goal threat with his ability to arrive into the penalty area.

We see an example of this in the image above. With the ball out on the right-hand side of the pitch the man in possession has the space to make a cross into the penalty area.

The striker makes a run towards the near post and pulls one of the Chelsea defenders towards the goal with him. This creates space in the penalty are and Van de Beek is able to make a run to access that space. As he receives the ball he is then free to shoot at goal.


This time we see the midfielder making a run to take advantage of space in the opposition penalty area and to interlink with the forward players.

As the ball is played into the penalty area where the striker has moved towards the man in possession, the opposition defensive block has been pulled towards the ball.

As it is played to the striker he has the intelligence to play a first-time pass with the outside of his foot to release Van de Beek into the back of the penalty area.


As you can see from the shotmap of Van de Beek across the course of the 2019/20 season he tends to take shots from good locations.

This shows a midfield player who has a clear tendency to receive and shoot from within the penalty area.


Van de Beek is also able to be creative in the final third when he makes these runs in the opposition half.

We see in the image above a situation where he has made a forward run down the left-hand side. This run has carried him into space and as he receives the ball he attracts two defensive players across to cover him.

As the defenders move across to try to close down the space the midfielder has Van de Beek has the presence of mind to weight a perfect ball across the face of the goal into the path of a free teammate on the opposite side.

Of course, there is more to a midfielder’s role in the modern game than just their performance in possession. We also have to consider how they perform out of possession.

In this sense we see Van de Beek playing a key role for his team in pressing and counter pressing the opposition in order to regain the ball.


The fact Van de Beek occupies such high positions on the pitch can often see him as the player best positioned to immediately counter press as the opposition win the ball back.

We see an example of this in the image above as the Ajax player initially in possession loses the ball in the corner of the pitch.

Van de Beek is positioned close to the ball and immediately makes a run to cut off the opponent as he looks to access space closer to his goal in order to make an effective clearance.

The midfielder wins the ball back and is able to immediately launch an attack from close to the opposition goal.


As you can see from the map of final third recoveries from the 2019/20 season Van de Beek is a midfielder who is exceptionally active across the final third when pressing out of possession.

He recovers the ball well and is often then able to create a goal scoring opportunity from these recoveries.

Van De Beek scored against Chelsea in the Champions League last season

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Van De Beek scored against Chelsea in the Champions League last season


In essence Manchester United have secured the signing of a midfield player who has the capacity to create chaos in the final third.

The intelligent movement and delayed runs that Van de Beek makes into attacking positions should combine really well with the progressive passing of Bruno Fernandes.

His work rate also offers an interesting option for United this term. His ability to read the opposition and quickly press the moment of transition makes him a dangerous player to the opposition, even when they have the ball.

In time the fee paid to Ajax for Van de Beek will look like a bargain.

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