Donny van de Beek might have changed his Manchester United fortunes and future – Daniel Murphy

He was only on the pitch for eight minutes, but Donny van de Beek’s brief cameo in Tuesday’s draw with Atalanta has given the slightest glimmer of hope that he might have a future at Manchester United yet.

Optimism was high when Van de Beek arrived at Old Trafford, and rightly so.

The dynamic and versatile midfielder had been a key part of the Ajax team that twice held Bayern Munich and defeated Real Madrid and Juventus on their way to an unlikely Champions League semi-final spot.

He came with Edwin van der Sar’s seal of approval and looked to be the exact type of midfielder United were begging for, one who is comfortable with the ball at his feet and an incisive passer. For just £35million, it was a bit of a coup too, especially as it seemed he was Real Madrid bound.

But things have not gone well in the slightest. Despite scoring on his debut, Van de Beek made just four starts in the Premier League in his first season — with two of those coming in the last four games when there was nothing left to play for.

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Whenever he was given a rare chance, usually in a cup competition, he was played out of position on a flank and was unsurprisingly ineffective there.

This season has started much the same way. He has started just twice in all competitions, being hooked at the break in one of those, and his other two appearances have been off the bench. It seems rather obvious that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just doesn’t fancy him. Even when every other possible midfield combination has been tried and failed, Van de Beek still hardly gets a look in.

With reports about a change of agent, it looked likely that the Dutchman was heading for the exit door in January, either on loan or permanently — and that may well still be the case.

But, the latest of those four appearances has given the faintest of possibilities that he may still have a role to play at Old Trafford.

United were staring down the barrel of yet another defeat on Tuesday, one which would have been disastrous for Solskjaer as it would have cranked the pressure upon him even higher, especially since United opted against moving for Antonio Conte in the aftermath of the Liverpool defeat. To make matters worse, Conte has now joined Tottenham.

Then the unlikeliest of sights could be spotted on the touchline, just in front of the dug-out. No.34 was about to come on.

It was a desperate last throw of the dice and he almost certainly only got on because five substitutions are permitted in Europe, but on Van de Beek came.

He didn’t have much time to make an impact, but make one he did. His touches on the ball were minimal but his presence was instantly positive. It was his clever dummy and run and then (intercepted, but the right idea) cut-back that led to Cristiano Ronaldo driving the ball inside before Mason Greenwood eventually sent it back his way to volley in the equaliser, saving Solskjaer for another day.

In what would have been a genuinely heart-warming moment, Van de Beek had the chance to win it late on as he fashioned himself some space in the box and shot on goal from a tight angle, but his effort was palmed away.

It was a promising sign, though, and hints that he hasn’t lost any confidence despite a difficult 18 months.

Ronaldo was once again the star of the show, but Van de Beek came away from the match with his own reputation a little brighter and Solskjaer even singled him out for praise.

“Donny provided the run for the last goal. He keeps working and he’s got qualities in there to unlock close defences and he almost scored as well. I thought all of them who came on did well,” he said.

The writing looked on the wall for Van de Beek and, in all likelihood, this probably wont change anything. He will probably continue to twiddle his thumbs on the bench in Premier League matches and be fed scraps in other competitions.

But, for the first time since he joined the club, there is the slightest possibility that the writing could be changed.

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