In modern gaming, building a team can be the difference between success and failure.
If you plan correctly and have clear player journeys, that means you are able to replace players as they start to regress and your team is immediately able to succeed.
If, however, these paths and progressions are not in place, even the most successful clubs can have their periods of domination cut short.
Poor recruiting has been one of the main criticisms leveled at Manchester United and their executive vice president Ed Woodward over the past few seasons.
Those criticisms were somewhat assuaged by the mid-season deal which saw Portuguese talisman Bruno Fernandes move to Old Trafford in January of this year.
Now, however, with Champions League qualification secured, Manchester United are expected to take the next step in closing the gap between them and rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.
The attention of the fan base has been firmly focused on the club’s efforts to sign young England international winger Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund.
Instead, however, the club announced a deal to sign Dutch international midfielder Donny van de Beek from Ajax for £ 35million.
But how 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 ’10’ top pick.
Van de Beek, however, is not a player who would traditionally play in this position behind the striker.
Instead, he tends to play like an 8 but is extremely progressive and seeks to make moves to and even beyond attackers.
In this tactical analysis, we’ll take a look at the potential role the Dutchman could play at Manchester United.
The first thing to note is the kind of positions Van de Beek is taking on the pitch.
As you can see from the heat map above, Van de Beek is a midfielder who tends to play in a variety of different roles.
As a young player he was first used as a 6 at the base of the midfield. As he progressed through Ajax’s ranks, however, he gradually shifted to a more attacking role.
That said, his exact role in midfield is very difficult to define. To a certain extent, this is because there are very few midfield players who have the same type of profile as the Dutchman.
Often times we will see Van de Beek doing vertical runs that break the last line of the opposing defense.
These runs are extremely effective for a team facing opponents looking to play either deep block or a more aggressive medium block.
As the ball progresses from the midfield areas we see runs of this nature proving to be essential in creating overloads against the opposition’s defensive system.
In the image above we see an example of Van de Beek doing such a race in order to provide a point of reference for his team on a higher line.
By performing this vertical run, he occupies the attention of two defensive players and gives the man in possession the option of playing in his run or playing the pass away where a teammate is now free to receive without opposing cover. .
The above measurements show, once again, Van de Beek’s particular profile and for a midfielder his 2019/20 performance with 1.75 shots for 90 is very impressive.
What is more impressive, however, is midfielder Van de Beek averaging 5.67 touches in the opposition’s penalty area for 90.
Those numbers would be elite for a striker, but for a midfielder they are incredible.
In these races, Van de Beek offers a real goal threat with his ability to get into the penalty area.
We see an example of this in the image above. With the ball on the right side of the pitch, the man in possession has room to cross into the penalty area.
The striker makes a run to the nearest post and pulls one of Chelsea’s defenders towards the goal with him. This creates space in the penalty and Van de Beek is able to run to access that space. When he receives the ball, he is then free to shoot on goal.
This time around we see the midfielder running to take advantage of the space in the opposition penalty area and to connect with the front players.
When the ball is played into the penalty area where the attacker has moved towards the man in possession, the opposing defensive block has been shot towards the ball.
As he is played forward, he has the intelligence to play a first pass with the outside of his foot to free Van de Beek in the back of the penalty area.
As you can see from Van de Beek’s shot shot in the 2019/20 season, he tends to take pictures from good places.
It shows a midfielder who has a clear tendency to receive and shoot from the penalty area.
Van de Beek is also able to be creative in the final third when he performs those runs in the opposing half.
We see in the image above a situation where he performed a forward run on the left side. This run carried him into space and when he receives the ball he attracts two defensive players to cover him.
As the defenders move to try and close the gap, the a Van de Beek midfielder has the presence of mind to weigh a perfect ball in the face of the goal on the way to a free teammate on the opposite side.
Of course, the role of a midfielder in modern play is not limited to his performance in possession. We also need to take into account how they behave out of possession.
In that sense, we see Van de Beek playing a key role for his team by pressing and counter-pressing the opposition in order to get the ball back.
The fact that Van de Beek occupies such high positions on the pitch can often see him as the player in the best position to immediately counter pressure when the opponent gets the ball back.
We see an example of this in the image above when 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 performs a run to cut through the opponent as he seeks access to space closer to his goal in order to clear effectively.
The midfielder recovers the ball and is able to immediately launch an attack from close to the opposing goal.
As you can see from the recovery map from the last third of the 2019/20 season, Van de Beek is an exceptionally active midfielder in the final third when he came out of possession.
He gets the ball well and is often then able to create a scoring opportunity from those scoops.
Essentially, Manchester United secured the signing of a chaos-capable midfielder in the final third.
The intelligent movement and delayed runs that Van de Beek makes in attacking positions should combine really well with the progressive overtaking of Bruno Fernandes.
His pace of work also offers an interesting option for United this quarter. His ability to read the opposition and quickly squeeze the moment of transition makes him a dangerous player for the opposition, even when they have the ball.
Over time, the fees paid to Ajax for Van de Beek will look like a bargain.
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