It was back in September that Donny van de Beek’s agent stated categorically that the midfielder was ‘not a Carabao Cup player’.
Guido Albers was explaining on Dutch television how Manchester United had blocked a move to Everton late in the transfer window in order to keep hold of the Dutch international.
Despite intense competition at United, Albers took the view that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s personal intervention to keep Van de Beek was a positive sign he would play more regularly.
Donny van de Beek should start for Man United when they host West Ham in the Carabao Cup
The £35million Dutch midfielder has endured a frustrating time since arriving at United with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer keeping him on the bench for most Premier League games
‘The perspective now is that we stated Donny is not a Carabao Cup player, or FA Cup player, or to play only in European games. Donny went to England to play in the Premier League,’ Albers said.
So the irony won’t be lost on anyone in the Van de Beek camp that he is likely to be handed a rare United start in the Carabao Cup when West Ham visit Old Trafford on Wednesday night.
Van de Beek has played just six minutes of Premier League football so far this season – a late replacement for Mason Greenwood with United leading Newcastle 3-1 earlier this month.
But mostly he’s been warming the bench yet again, an echo of last season when he started just four league fixtures and came off the bench 15 times.
Midfield isn’t really the area where United’s greatest strengths lie at the moment – they do continue to look light of a top quality holding player – but there’s enough in the squad to keep Van de Beek redundant.
Van de Beek (top) sits on the United bench last season – he started just four league fixtures
He was given a start in last week’s Champions League game against Young Boys but was taken off at half-time for an extra defender after Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card
Man United fixtures
Premier League unless stated
Wednesday West Ham (H)
Carabao Cup third round
September 25 Aston Villa (H)
September 29 Villarreal (H)
October 2 Everton (H)
October 16 Leicester City (A)
October 20 Atalanta (H)
Paul Pogba, Scott McTominay, Fred and Nemanja Matic all appear to be ahead of a player who cost the club £35million when signed from Ajax in August last year.
It means the 24-year-old looks like a spare part and when given an opportunity to impress always seems to allow the game to pass him by.
Yes, there has been some bad luck. Last week, Van de Beek started against Young Boys in the Champions League only for Aaron Wan-Bissaka’s red card to result in him being withdrawn at half-time for extra defensive cover in Raphael Varane.
But it’s not as though Van de Beek’s first-half performance made a compelling case for him to remain on the field as United tried – and ultimately failed – to cling on to their lead.
He didn’t do anything terribly wrong but it’s all about stepping up and getting involved in a contest and that simply didn’t happen.
Indeed, in 38 games for United it is very difficult to recall a Van de Beek performance of note. At Wolves on the final day of last season he played well but it wasn’t enough to win a start in the UEFA Europa League final.
It already seems an awfully long time since he marked his competitive debut for United with a goal against Crystal Palace in their Premier League opener last season.
There is the mitigation that Van de Beek hasn’t enjoyed a consistent run of games at United, making it difficult to find any form, but he is far from alone in being in such a position at a leading club.
Van de Beek plays against West Ham in the FA Cup fifth round back in February
The £35million midfielder has played just six minutes of league action so far this season
Van de Beek last season
Starts: 15 Minutes: 1,456
Completed full 90 minutes: 7
Unused substitute: 18
Goals: 1 Assists: 2
So while it’s easy to disparage the Carabao Cup, Wednesday night’s meeting of a much-changed Man United and a much-changed West Ham does present a good opportunity for Van de Beek.
He simply can’t allow this one to drift by him or think the occasion is beneath him. He needs an eye-catching performance to remind everyone he is worthy of more game time and is fighting for a place.
If, as his agent said a few weeks ago, Solskjaer did intervene when he heard talks were underway with Marcel Brands and Farhad Moshiri at Everton, then it’s clear the manager still rates him highly.
Only last month, Solskjaer was stressing how Van de Beek ‘will be important to us’ and ‘will get chances’ to play amid a busy fixture schedule across four competitions.
But he needs to improve and offer more in order to get a regular run in the team as there will be no shortage of people urging him to cut and run.
As United legend Rio Ferdinand said last week: ‘He gets a game, he gets a chance to come in and then he gets the chance to showcase his talent and what he’s about.
‘At Ajax, we all knew what he was capable of. He’s got to prove himself again though after he’s moved to a new club – he hasn’t had that opportunity yet.
‘He’s getting that now. He was given assurances that he would get these opportunities, but he’s got to go and produce.
‘He’s got to go out there and show Ole why he should be playing in his team and make it difficult to take him out.’
It is difficult to recall a match for United in which Van de Beek made a game-changing impact
The onus is on the Holland international to convince Solskjaer to change a winning team
Another factor counting against Van de Beek in terms of starting Premier League games is simply that United are enjoying a flying start to the season.
Boosted by Cristiano Ronaldo’s return, they’ve won four of their first five league games and are starting to look like genuine title challengers.
So why would Solskjaer want to make alterations to a winning side?
With the league the priority, most opportunities for Van de Beek are going to come precisely in the competitions his agent claimed he was a bit beyond.
So the onus falls on him to convince United’s manager to amend his best-laid plans for that title tilt. The Carabao Cup would be a good place to start tonight.