You could only imagine the noise, the roar, that Old Trafford made when Cristiano Ronaldo’s strike nestled into the back of Gerónimo Rulli’s net. A last minute winner in the Champions League made it a special night for Manchester United and everyone involved.
Apart from one man.
As has been the case so often over the last year, Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s substitutes made the difference in this match, but it was one of the men on the bench who didn’t grace the pitch who many were talking about after the match.
Donny van de Beek was visibly upset as his manager brought on Fred and Jesse Lingard as his last two substitutes on the night. The Dutchman returned to his seat on the bench after throwing his bib onto the floor. Consolation from Dean Henderson and Eric Bailly wouldn’t be enough for the midfielder who has had a torrid time since joining the English club from Ajax.Embed from Getty Images
His manager knows more than anyone about frustrations about being left on the bench, and he spoke on his player’s anger in his latest press conference.
“Donny was ready to come on [against Villarreal]. I have been a sub more than anyone in this club probably – I must have a record appearance as a sub – and you have to be ready all the time. I was not happy a few times.” Solskjær stated.
“That is a decision every manager makes. I understand the frustration. Every player is keen to play. When they get on, show me. Not just Donny, everyone. Donny has never affected team-mates negatively.
“I’ve got a squad of internationals and if we’re going to be successful we need positive energy, no sulkers.”
While Solskjær wants Van de Beek to remain hungry, after a tough start to life at his new club in his debut season, the midfielder hasn’t had much luck in his second campaign at United. His first start of the season was going well until Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off and the Dutchman was then sacrificed at half-time in order to restore more balance to the team which eventually went onto lose the encounter.
In his second start, Van de Beek was one of the brightest sparks in United’s 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the Carabao Cup, but you have to also consider he lost the man who eventually scored the winner. After Ryan Fredericks got to the byline on the left side, Van de Beek was attracted to the ball and left Manuel Lanzini free for a cutback inside the penalty area.Embed from Getty Images
It’s been difficult for the attacking midfielder, who’s seemed to have slowly realise that he won’t get the playing time that he wants in his preferred position, so has looked to gain minutes in a position where United look weaker. However, you can only think that the Dutchman would be better off making appearances in the number ten role. Unfortunately for him, Manchester United have Bruno Fernandes. And Jesse Lingard is also proving his worth in his short cameos so far this season.
The former-Ajax midfielder must feel hard-done by that he’s not only had limited game-time, but also in positions which limit his best assets. Van de Beek should be regularly reaching the penalty box and making things happen in the final third, not doing the dirty work in the deeper midfield role.
Ultimately, the £40 million purchase of the player is looking more and more like bad recruitment from the Reds. The January window could be time to swallow pride and let the Dutchman go and play regular football. Mike McGrath has reported that the midfielder who has started just two matches so far this season will be looking for assurances of where he stands at United, after expecting more game-time this campaign.
Of course, it’s a long season and Solskjær could very well turn to the 24-year-old throughout, and he may well have a change of fortune like so many players do in their second seasons in the Premier League. However, that’s looking more unlikely by the day.
While one player struggles, one will be thriving. And while Donny van de Beek would’ve felt hard-done by not making an appearance against Villarreal, would anyone have brought him on instead of Jesse Lingard? I doubt it.
The English midfielder seemed to be surplus to requirements less than two months ago. Almost every supporter that you’d have asked would’ve wanted Lingard to be sold to West Ham in order to raise funds for a deeper midfielder.
When that move didn’t materialise, it was a popular belief that Lingard would struggle to get any real game-time at Old Trafford. However, he’s pushing his way into Solskjær’s plans, and could earn himself a league start for Solskjær soon. The last start Lingard had in the Premier League for United was in a 2-0 defeat to Arsenal on New Year’s Day 2020.Embed from Getty Images
Since the start of the season, Lingard has played just 134 minutes for the Red Devils, accumulated over one start and five appearances from the bench. He has registered two goals and an assist in those games, with two of these contributions being key to important wins for Solskjær’s side.
His incredible matchwinner against West Ham was written in the stars after his loan spell with the London club revived his career last campaign. Then his cool set-up for Ronaldo against Villarreal was a sign of a player who is desperate to have a proper part to play for United this season.
His assist the other night was not down to luck either. Lingard went close to getting the winning goal himself after some good box movement allowed him to latch onto the end of Ronaldo’s cross. But he was denied well from Gerónimo Rulli. His movement to get in front of Pau Torres for Ronaldo’s header back across goal, and pass back to United’s no.7 was the difference between one and three points for Manchester United in their Champions League group.Embed from Getty Images
Many people, including myself, thought that it was a bad decision to keep Lingard at the club. It instead now looks like the bad decision was keeping his Dutch counterpart, as it’s clear to see which player Ole Gunnar Solskjær prefers.