Manchester United have signed Donny van de Beek from Ajax which will lead to a change in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s midfield.
The Ajax midfielder spoke to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and heard about his plans for the club and enthused by the vision, Van de Beek was delighted to sign a five-year deal at Old Trafford.
You would imagine that part of that conversation might have focused on the role Solskjaer envisages the 23-year-old playing.
But when asked about his best attributes Van de Beek, who has played in a deeper No. 6 role for Ajax, expressed his intention to be a creative force for United as well.
“I’m a midfielder that likes to go into the box – making runs, goals, assists. A lot of the time, I cover a lot of distance in games, this is also a thing that is a strength for me, to get into the box of the opponent,” he told the club’s official website.
That raises the intriguing prospect of Fernandes and Van de Beek being fielded together in an advanced role, both playing as No. 8s in a system not too dissimilar from 4-3-3.
That duo might not be unleashed every week.
There will be times when United have to take a more cautious approach and a time when rotation is necessary, but fielding Fernandes and Van de Beek behind that dangerous front three is certainly an attacking line-up at Solskjaer’s disposal.
Yet that also raises the question of where Paul Pogba fits in. The £89million midfielder isn’t going to find himself on the bench, so Solskjaer may find himself trying to balance a midfield trio of Fernandes, Van de Beek and Pogba.
United do at least have a back-up plan now should Pogba decide to try and force a departure again next summer, but for the next 12 months they have three central midfielders of the highest quality available.
If Solskjaer is determined to get his best players on the pitch and play them all, then it might be that Pogba becomes the defensive midfielder in United’s system.
But it could be a huge challenge for the World Cup winner, who has played deeper roles when playing alongside more naturally defensive midfielders, as with Nemanja Matic towards the end of last season, but has rarely been deployed as the midfield anchorman on his own.
With Fernandes and Van de Beek both playing higher roles, it would be a test of Pogba’s positional discipline and his ability to read the game and cut out counter-attacks, which for elite teams is a valuable role of the deepest midfielder.
The signing of Van de Beek gives Solskjaer options in midfield, which is what every manager at a club with aspirations on silverware wants.
How he goes about using those options is left to be seen.