Donny van de Beek did his cause no harm at top of Manchester United’s midfield diamond that downed RB Leipzig… now the Dutchman needs to figure out how to co-exist with Paul Pogba AND Bruno Fernandes
There’s something about Europe that seems to bring out the best in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
First, Thomas Tuchel now his German compatriot Julian Nagelsmann, Solskjaer has taken on two of the most highly-rated young coaches in Europe and come up with two statement Champions League wins.
He is prospering in Europe in a way he has not in the Premier League so far this season and, as a result, United are in firm control of a very tricky Group H.
Donny van de Beek got his first start for Manchester United outside of the Carabao Cup
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer rang the changes and placed the Dutchman at the top of a diamond
Having switched to a back-three in Paris and overcome last season’s beaten finalists – eclipsing Neymar and Kylian Mbappe in the process – Solskjaer rang the changes again and thrashed RB Leipzig, semi-finalists in August.
He reverted to a back-four but this time it was a midfield diamond that did the trick. It was a formation that played to the strengths of both Paul Pogba and Donny van de Beek in the temporary absence of Bruno Fernandes, whose occupancy of the No.10 role in the usual 4-2-3-1 formation suits neither of his teammates.
Pogba likes to have a licence to attack and it was his drive forward from the left-hand side of the diamond and pass that gave Mason Greenwood the opportunity to score in the 21st minute with his first shot in Champions League football.
He did not dominate the contest but did not harm his cause to be given regular minutes now
The diamond formation allowed Paul Pogba (left) the ability to drive forward down the left
Much has been made of Van de Beek’s absence since his £40million move from Ajax last month. This was the Dutchman’s first start outside the Carabao Cup, but it’s fair to say he came to play the likes of Leipzig not Luton Town.
The topic dominated the build-up to this game and Solskjaer had no doubt already made up his mind to play Van de Beek on this occasion.
The 23-year-old certainly put himself about at the top of the diamond. One minute he was playing as high as Greenwood and Anthony Martial in his duel with Kevin Kampl, the next he was dropping deep to help out on defence or demand the ball.
It wasn’t a performance that guarantees Van de Beek will start against Arsenal on Sunday, but he didn’t do his case any harm either before making way for Fernandes in the 68th minute.
‘Donny is a fantastic player and you see the work he puts in on and off the ball,’ said Solskjaer. ‘You see the defensive shape with him and he covers his ground.
‘I think we have an abundance of good midfielders at the club. I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself but today I think it worked.
Van de Beek’s absence has been a key talking point but he had his opportunity on Wednesday
Van de Beek (right) will hope to get the nod to start when United face Arsenal on Sunday
‘The work off the ball was incredible – Nemanja (Matic), Fred, Donny, Paul – all four of them worked their socks off. That’s the basis of the team. If you can work and win the ball in good situations you create chances. I’m sure Fred covered every single little blade of grass on the pitch and it’s unbelievable how that boy just recovers for the next one.
‘The squad is good and, of course, it gives us options now. We have the possibility to play a 4-3-3, a diamond, 4-2-3-1, 3-4-1-2, but it’s execution and it’s the principles and work-rate that’s key here.’
By the time Van de Beek departed, Solskjaer was looking to quell an increasingly lively Leipzig team and, again, he got it right with his changes. Substitutes Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were the catalysts for a stunning late surge.
Fernandes set up the second for Rashford who went on to score a stunning hat-trick despite letting Anthony Martial take a penalty.
It was kind of outcome that makes managers look very good indeed.