Erik ten Hag: A dream for Donny van de Beek

The Theatre of Dreams has been more like a house of nightmares for Donny van de Beek in his time at Manchester United so far, but the announcement of his former Ajax boss Erik ten Hag taking the helm at United next season could be exactly what he needs to resurrect the midfielder’s career.

It was under Ten Hag where Van de Beek flourished and became the player Manchester United desired when they spent £35 million on the young Dutchman in 2020.

This positive relationship is why Donny is one of our five players that will benefit under Erik ten Hag, but why has there been such a drop off in performance since the player split up from his manager?

Donny van de Bench

One of the most obvious reasons why United have only seen a fraction of the player they were promised with the £35 million transfer fee is because of how little he has played under Ole Gunnar Solskjær and Ralf Rangnick.

The midfield maestro has been left sitting on the bench for the full 90 minutes a confidence shattering 29 times since joining the club and that’s just in the Premier League.

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On the occasion that he is subbed on in the league for United, Van de Beek would play less than 25 minutes 21 times, with four of these appearances being for just one minute! He would be spending more time warming up than actually playing football so it’s incredibly harsh to expect him to come on and impact the game.

Things haven’t been much better during his loan spell at relegation threatened Everton either, as he has only played six times under Frank Lampard, being substituted off twice, a thigh injury has made him miss three games and he was once again in his most usual position in the Premier League, the bench, for Everton’s match last wednesday, and was not part of the squad to face Liverpool on sunday.

His time in England has been a stark contrast to his formative years in the Eredivisie under ten Hag, where Van de Beek started 87 of the 110 league games he played for Ajax with Erik ten Hag in charge.

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Here’s hoping we will Donny van de Beek’s name on the starting XI more regularly in Ten Hag’s reign and if that’s the case, the £35 million price tag could be seen as a bargain as the Dutch centre mid has thrived under United’s new manager’s tactics previously.

Donny’s versatility

During his time at Ajax, Van de Beek was a versatile animal in the midfield and this was largely down to Ten Hag’s tactics.

Ten Hag is known for playing with a midfield three, with each of these players having a distinct role.

Donny played as a No.10 the majority of the time, but also dropped between the defensive midfield pivot when necessary to help create a diamond of six that connected the midfield to the defence. This is one of the main cornerstones of Ten Hag’s way of football, and Van de Beek often executed it like second nature.

The example used by Breaking The Lines show this best as in the photo below. Van de Beek is at the base of the diamond ready to receive the ball from the defence and move play forward.

The fluid nature of Donny’s positioning in the midfield led to impressive individual statistics and heat maps.

In the 2017/18 season, the first with Erik ten Hag in charge, Van de Beek acted as a box to box midfielder and was constantly active, scoring 11 goals and assisting 6 times. Underneath is the Dutchman’s heat map for the season in question from SofaScore.

Donny was dominant everywhere on the pitch, and his overall stats for the season show this. Offensively he took 2.1 shots, with 0.8 being on target, 60.3 touches and 10 key chances created per game!

Defensively he was also very effective for a player who on the whole plays a very attack-minded game, averaging: 0.9 interceptions, 1.8 tackles, with 1.1 clearances per game. Perhaps the most stunning stats are that he had 0 errors leading to a shot or a goal for the entirety of 2017/18 in the Eredivisie.

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These impressive numbers continued into his final year at Ajax, but this time he was playing predominantly on the right.

This shows how flexible ten Hag is with his tactics and how willing Van de Beek is to adapt and learn.

Troubles in the Premier League

The complete opposite was the case at Old Trafford as Solskjær was regimented in his 4-2-3-1 formation and had the difficult task of shoehorning his new signing into an already saturated midfield of Paul Pogba, Fred, Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes and a few more.

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Donny van de Beek had no place in the United team as he didn’t work well alongside Fred or McTominay as a defensive two and the central attacking midfield position only had Bruno’s name on it. This led to the situation talked about earlier where he had to make the bench his home.

Donny van de Beek’s heat map for his debut season at United

Ironically one of his hottest spots is by the home dugout where the subs come on.

Van de Beek for Everton this season

One thing in common with the two heat maps from Donny in the Premier League is that both lack purpose and direction and this is also shown in his numbers.

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For Manchester United, Van de Beek averaged just 0.1 shots with 0.05 on target, 19.5 touches with one big chance created per game. His defending stats also significantly dropped to 0.5 interceptions, 1.3 tackles, 0.6 dribbles past and 0.4 clearances per game.

These numbers are worlds away from those he was producing whilst playing in The Netherlands and he has become a shadow of the player that he once was.

Erik ten Hag, the saviour?

With the arrival of Ten Hag in the summer and reports of a complete overhaul happening at United, the return of Donny van de Beek as a star player under his former boss looks like a realistic possibility.

This horrendous career move from his boyhood club, to sitting on the bench in England could finally be a happy situation for both the fans and the player, who want the same thing, to see Donny van de Beek playing his best football.

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