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Ben Thornley: How van de Beek helps Man Utd; Mejbri warning; Signings needed

I was in the commentary box for Saturday's friendly loss to Aston Villa. It has to be said that the way the lads played in the first-half, without most of the starting XI, was super.

They played some really, really good stuff and created a lot of chances that weren't taken. Luke Shaw was a highlight. I thought he was a big loss when he fell injured after the Southampton game last season. And as well as Brandon Williams has done, I think Luke Shaw was showing some really classy form on the back of starting against Villa.

We know Luke Shaw is a very, very talented lad but since he broke his leg a couple of years ago, the club have gone through indifferent times with him. I've seen that the club have been linked with Sergio Regulion and he's a very, very exciting player.

When Luke Shaw played as a third centre-back I thought he was playing some of the best football he has played at Manchester United. So just because they are chasing a left-back I don't think for one minute that is has to be curtains for Luke Shaw. I think there will easily be a way to accommodate both players.

The other plus for me was watching Donny van de Beek. You can see any of these players that have been through the Ajax academy, they are all technically gifted. They all know how to take the ball, how to receive the ball, they are aware of what is around them. They're brilliant getting into little pockets of space that make it difficult for people to mark. And that is exactly how Donny played the game on Saturday, he's a very intelligent footballer. I'm looking forward to watching him grow into a Manchester United shirt and growing in confidence, like how Bruno Fernandes did very quickly. And I think he will have a very, very big impact at Old Trafford.


It's tough for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer because if there is probably one area of the pitch were United are okay it would be the midfield; with Fernandes, Pogba, Matic, McTominay and Fred.

So is van de Beek going to play as a holding midfielder? Is he going to play alongside Fernandes, and in that case, how does that work? It's a really, really difficult one.

What I saw on Saturday from van de Beek was that, as the play is developing, he likes to break the midfield lines and join the attack, even though the play is behind him, in anticipation of being able to receive the ball in and around the box, and be able to either play someone in or find the space to have a shot on goal. And that is one thing that the other midfielders that we've already mentioned I don't often see them do. They link play nicely, but actually going and standing alongside the forwards is something I don't see.

It is very welcome because one thing that was so noticeable on Saturday was Daniel James put three or four crosses into a dangerous area but nobody got on the end of them. It was something that I mentioned in commentary for MUTV and indeed what Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the game. It's been a long, long time since United have gone into half time with a valuable lead. And hopefully van de Beek can now provide that extra player getting into the box to help convert those chances.


If you went through our youth team that won the FA Youth Cup in 1992, there wasn't a player who was from further away than Keith Gillespie from Northern Ireland. It wasn't until after I left that foreign players started joining the academy.

I don't blame them for doing that. Manchester United wants to have the best players from all over the world. But I do understand that it is also poses problems for the boys who are already there, because when you are trying to attract players from all over the world, you obviously have to dangle a little bit more in front of them as an incentive to up sticks, especially when they're young boys. There might be a little bit of resentment there because the boys who were scouted locally will probably be on a little less than the guy whose coming in from France or Switzerland.

In terms of the scouting network, I think that the scouts have got to be casting their nets far and wide. I realise that everybody loves to have local talent playing in their first-team and that is something Manchester United in the past have prided themselves on and you can talk about that right the way through the years.

I did the commentary for the U23s on Monday night and they were beaten by a very good Leicester side. One of those players that a lot is expected from is Hannibal Mejbri.

Now Mejbri is a very talented player but the other night they didn't give him any time on the ball and they are a big strong, quite physical Leicester side. And he very quickly became frustrated. Sometimes when you see that from the sidelines, when you get foreigners start waving their arms around and showing dissent, that can get to your teammates, you've just got to get on with it.

Hannibal is only young, but when he is stepping up to play in the U23s on a regular basis, which he will do this season, he has got to realise that he is coming up against bigger, better and stronger players and he needs to learn that he's not always going to be the top dog on the pitch, especially when you've got somebody who won't give you a lot of time and is stronger than you. He's going to have to learn how to adapt to that and beat it. That's what is going to make him a better player, learning to combat how these players are going to come up against him, especially when they know you are talented.

But what he can't be doing is showing dissent to his other teammates because that is certainly one way for anyone to start incurring any resentment. He has to be stronger than that mentally. He's a very talented player but he has got it in him to let his teammates down by doing something rash and getting himself sent off because he is frustrated with the treatment he is getting from the opposition.

What you don't want, as a local player, is seeing someone who has been brought from overseas to get special treatment from the coaching staff just because they might be a little bit temperamental. That could also start some resentment in the dressing room because players will think 'oh its okay for him to do it but if we did it we'd be in trouble'. Everybody has got to be treated equally.

I do feel that Manchester United need to further their scouting network far and wide, to bring in the best boys at whatever age they can get them at. But it's also important that those players come in and learn the United culture straight away and everybody knows that they are treated exactly the same.


I don't think there's any question that to compete on four fronts then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is going to need a big enough squad.

Having said that we do need to allow some players to leave. The likes of Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo. That will pave the way to bring in another centre-half. Realistically those three defenders are not going to play, only sporadically in the games which Ole will be happy not to play his stars.

But I'd be a lot happier heading into the season if we were able to bring in another centre-half and another forward thinking player. I wrote in this column last month that the Jadon Sancho saga has gone on far too long. I said bin it and go and test Daniel Levy's resolve for Harry Kane, who looks a bit carthorse at the moment. He looked two or three yards off the pace against Everton on Sunday, without any question. But that can be rectified because we know how much of a quality striker he is.

If they want to try and go for Reguilon, I'd be happy. I watched him in person during the Europa League and he really impressed me. He wouldn't be a problem for me because he can play in defence but I also think he does a great job going forward.

Certainly another one or two new faces of real quality will just about do us to be able to hold our own. And when you think after the first round of games that Arsenal, Liverpool, Leicester, Wolves and Chelsea have all won, the pressure is already on.

We play late on Saturday afternoon this weekend and we could already potentially be six points behind some teams. At the moment the squad isn't enough. Just like Liverpool, we are two or three injuries away from being a mid-table team. I honestly believe Liverpool are in the same position. I watched them concede three goals to Leeds on the weekend, and Virgil van Dijk and Trent Alexander-Arnold didn't cover themselves in glory.

I'm not suggesting for a second that if we don't get anybody in that we don't have a chance of winning anything, but if we do, I think we can see Manchester United competing not just domestically but in Europe as well.

Ben Thornley
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Ben Thornley

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