Man Utd must give a transformed Donny van de Beek the chance to prove himself

Manchester United midfielder Donny van de Beek is believed to be working on a new fitness programme ahead of the 2021/22 season in the hope of a better second campaign than his first, but the club now needs to give him the chance to prove himself

There has never been any doubt about Van de Beek’s quality. He was good enough to play a major role as Ajax got within a kick of the 2019 Champions League final and was nominated for the Ballon d’Or that year as a result. United saw fit to agree a £40m deal to sign him last summer and Real Madrid arguably would have signed him before that had they had the capital available.

Van de Beek even scored on his Premier League debut when he came off the bench in United’s opening game of last season. But that was pretty much as good as it got for him.

For whatever reason, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer didn’t seem to have enough faith in him. It was November before Van de Beek started his first Premier League game and he only started four times in the league all season – two of those were in the final two weeks of the season when a top four place was secure and the pressure to get results was off.

Donny van de Beek

Van de Beek only started four Premier League games in 2020/21 / Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images

At one time, United had considered offering Van de Beek to Borussia Dortmund as a sweetener in the Jadon Sancho negotiations, while it was more recently reported that Van de Beek has been the subject of ‘tentative enquiries’ from clubs in Italy, Spain and Germany. But the player himself is said to be keen to stay and fight for his place at Old Trafford.

When he did infrequently appear in the second half of the season in particular, Van de Beek looked devoid of confidence and match fitness. He was often off the pace and looked out of place.

In the context of a pandemic and the restrictive protocols in place, last summer was probably the worst time to swap clubs, especially overseas. But this summer has provided an opportunity for Van de Beek, with his withdrawal from Euro 2020 through injury arguably a blessing in disguise.

Having some time off will have done him plenty of good, both mentally and physically. Yet improving his physical condition, perhaps the single biggest factor which stopped him making the desired impact in the vastly different world of Premier League football, has also been at the forefront of his mind.

The Athletic has reported that Van de Beek has sought the help of a specialist training centre in Amsterdam and, in conjunction with United’s medical and training staff, has set about working on building his physical strength and gaining muscle. The effect of that programme was noticeable when the 24-year-old appeared for the first time in pre-season against Brentford last week.

If Van de Beek is now fitter and stronger, he could have a significant role to play this season, especially with a lack of depth in midfield ultimately holding United back in 2020/21.

There are question marks over Paul Pogba’s future beyond even this summer. But while Van de Beek still may not get into United’s strongest starting XI, the ability to rotate is absolutely crucial to success – it is no coincidence that Manchester City ran away with last season’s title when they were able to call upon a plethora of attacking talents to keep everyone fresh.

The technical ability is already there, but if Van de Beek now has the physicality to complement that, a bigger role is waiting for him in 2021/22. United just need to give him the chance.

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Mikel Arteta gives definitive update on Granit Xhaka’s Arsenal future

Mikel Arteta has confirmed that Granit Xhaka will stay at Arsenal having come close to joining Roma earlier in the summer, and the midfielder is also expected to be offered a new contract.

Xhaka’s long-term Arsenal future had been in doubt for some time despite him being regular for Arteta last season, making 31 Premier League appearances and starting 29 of them.

Roma showed interest in the Switzerland international, only for a deal to ultimately fall through over a failure from the clubs to reach an agreement over a transfer fee. Roma are not prepared to meet the £17m (€20m) asking price and Arsenal are not prepared to compromise.

With no breakthrough forthcoming, Arteta confirmed after Sunday’s pre-season friendly against Chelsea that Xhaka will not be leaving the club.

“Granit is going to stay with us. He is a key member of our squad,” were the manager’s words to talkSPORT soon after the final whistle.

Journalist Fabrizio Romano has tweeted that after rejecting an offer from Roma worth a guaranteed £10m, plus a further £2.5m in add-ons, Arsenal intend to hand Xhaka a new contract. That deal is expected to last until 2024 on an improved salary and the Gunners are described as ‘confident’.

Sky Sports had reported on Friday that Arteta has never wanted Xhaka to leave and was a major factor in convincing him to stay in January 2020 soon after taking over from predecessor Unai Emery, with whom the player had previously clashed.

Arsenal are in the midst of a much-needed squad overhaul this summer. They have already ticked some key positions off their wish-list following the signings of centre-back Ben White, full-back Nuno Tavares and midfielder Albert Sambi Lokonga.

A goalkeeper and another midfielder are the remaining priority positions left to address, with Aaron Ramsdale and James Maddison the players most closely linked so far. Arsenal are thought to have already had two offers rejected for the former, while the latter is valued at £70m.

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Mikel Arteta provides worrying injury update on Thomas Partey

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta has suggested midfielder Thomas Partey could be set for a lengthy spell on the sidelines after picking up an injury in a pre-season friendly against Chelsea on Sunday afternoon.

Partey was caught by a heavy challenge from Ruben Loftus-Cheek and was forced off five minutes before half-time, with the Gunners going on to lose the game 2-1.

Thomas Partey, Ruben Loftus-Cheek

The challenge that caused Partey’s injury / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Images of the tackle appear to show the 28-year-old’s foot caught beneath the weight of Loftus-Cheek’s thigh and his ankle turned in an unnatural position.

Speaking after the game, Arteta admitted the injury was ‘not looking good’, suggesting the Ghanaian will almost certainly miss Arsenal’s opening game of the season against Brentford on 13 August.

“I just had a talk with the doc and he’s going to have a scan tomorrow,” Arteta said. “At the moment it’s not looking good because he was in pain.

“He could not continue, which for Thomas is pretty unusual.”

Partey was replaced by Granit Xhaka, who Arteta added would be staying at the Emirates following speculation linking the Swiss with a £15m move to Roma.

Xhaka would go on to equalise for Arsenal with a header from a corner in the second period after Kai Havertz’s fine opener for Chelsea in the first half. However, a horrible defensive mixup involving Hector Bellerin gifted the ball to Tammy Abraham to coolly slot home the winner in the 72nd minute.

Arsenal will be desperately hoping the injury is nothing too serious, with Partey a key part of Mikel Arteta’s new-look side as they head into 2021/22 looking for a swift return to European football having missed out for the first time in 25 years last term.

The Gunners have already spent a combined £75m on Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga and Ben White, and further additions are expected with a £250m war chest at their disposal this summer.

Callum Hudson-Odoi can be a problem for the Premier League on the left wing

This summer is a big one for a lot of Chelsea players, but you get the feeling that nobody feels as though they have something to prove as much as winger Callum Hudson-Odoi.

The wonderkid youngster on skyscraper wages, Hudson-Odoi is yet to really make that next step in his career, with a combination of poor form and a nasty Achilles injury curtailing any momentum he tried to build up.

Callum Hudson-Odoi

Hudson-Odoi had struggled to convince Thomas Tuchel / Pierre-Philippe Marcou – Pool/Getty Images

Those struggles have led to suggestions that Hudson-Odoi could be sold this summer, and to paraphrase the great Michael Jordan, he looks like he took that personally.

Returning to pre-season earlier than anyone else in the Chelsea squad, Hudson-Odoi has had a lot of one-to-one time with Thomas Tuchel already this summer, and the extra fitness that comes with his early return means he has had more game time as well.

Playing more than anyone else in the squad, Hudson-Odoi has had the minutes he needed to prove himself to Tuchel, and the boss will be absolutely delighted with what he has seen from the Englishman so far.

Interestingly, Hudson-Odoi isn’t doing much different to last year. He does seem to have an extra yard of pace and some extra swagger, but his game is still focused on charging up the wing and burning defenders.

The important thing about this summer, however, is that he’s been doing it on the left wing.

Back on the wing in which he made his name in the academy, Hudson-Odoi has looked like an absolute animal. In the latest friendly, a 2-1 win over Arsenal, he completely terrorised Calum Chambers and dummied his way past Pablo Mari with terrifying ease.

Using his stronger right foot, Hudson-Odoi almost drags the ball forward and encourages defenders to bite, at which point he will scoop the ball around and fly towards the box before the opponent has even picked themselves up.

When deployed on the left, Hudson-Odoi clearly feels unleashed. That swagger comes from confidence in his own ability, and when he is humiliating fellow professionals with his skills, can you blame him for feeling himself?

Tuchel simply has to use the 20-year-old on the left from this point on. It’s a role in which Timo Werner has spent a lot of time, but the German is nowhere near as dynamic as Hudson-Odoi. If you want your forwards to create chances, you’ve got to go with the latter.

A good chat with Tuchel in pre-season looks to have revitalised Hudson-Odoi. The pair now know better what they expect from one another, and the results are already starting to show.

Premier League defenders will already be having nightmares about the idea of facing him, but if Hudson-Odoi can add some more reliability with his end product, it could be game over.

Arsenal 1-2 Chelsea: Player ratings as Blues kick off Mind Series with win

Chelsea kicked off the pre-season Mind Series tournament with a composed 2-1 victory over London rivals Arsenal.

The Gunners began the game on top, causing some trouble down the left wing, but it was Chelsea who took the lead as Kai Havertz thundered home a two-on-one chance 26 minutes in. Both Emile Smith Rowe and Hakim Ziyech saw strikes come back off the post, but the score remained 1-0 heading into the break.

After watching Ziyech miss an excellent chance for a second, Granit Xhaka headed Arsenal level from a corner midway through the second half, but Tammy Abraham answered back immediately with a composed finish after more sloppy defending from Arsenal.

Joe Willock thought he had fired home an equaliser late on, but despite the ball looking to have bounced over the line, the goal was not given and Chelsea instead managed to see the rest of the game out comfortably.

Kieran Tierney

Tierney had a solid showing / ADRIAN DENNIS/Getty Images

Bernd Leno (GK) – 5/10 – Didn’t look happy at all during the game, but a lot of the blame must go to his non-existent defence.

Calum Chambers (RB) – 4/10 – Not good enough in attack for someone who spent so long at that end of the pitch. Caught out of position far too often and regularly struggled with Werner’s pace.

Rob Holding (CB) – 4/10 – Was Holding a false centre-back? He roamed around far too often and left Arsenal so exposed for Havertz’s opener.

Pablo Mari (CB) – 5/10 – Did have some good moments of defending but was left painfully isolated at times. Didn’t always help himself but needed far more support.

Kieran Tierney (LB) – 6/10 – Arsenal’s best defender by far (barely a compliment), Tierney feasted on Pulisic’s unconvincing performance at wing-back. His end product left a little to be desired but he asked a lot of questions of Chelsea’s defence.

Thomas Partey

Partey was forced off injured / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Thomas Partey (DM) – 5/10 – One of Arsenal’s best players before being forced off shorty before half-time through injury. Tried to carry on after picking up a knock but couldn’t.

Mohamed Elneny (DM) – 4/10 – Caught in possession alarmingly often and had his defenders scrambling to cover for him. Did little to suggest he will start over Albert Sambi Lokonga.

Nicolas Pepe (RM) – 4/10 – Didn’t get the better of Hudson-Odoi on the right and was worryingly quiet during his time on the pitch.

Emile Smith Rowe (AM) – 6/10 – Looked very sharp and was a post away from getting a well-deserved goal.

Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (LM) – 5/10 – Looked lively down the wing and enjoyed space behind Pulisic, but proved why so many fans want him back at striker with a poor end product.

Alexandre Lacazette

Lacazette was quiet / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Alexandre Lacazette (ST) – 4/10 – Looked off the pace against Chelsea’s three centre-backs. Found it hard to link up play and looked a step behind the rest of his team-mates.

Granit Xhaka – 6/10

Ben White – 7/10

Hector Bellerin – 4/10

Sead Kolasinac – 5/10

Bukayo Saka – 6/10

Eddie Nketiah – 6/10

Joe Willock – 6/10

Nuno Tavares – 6/10

Albert Sambi Lokonga – 7/10

Trevor Chalobah

Chalobah was solid again / Visionhaus/Getty Images

Edouard Mendy (GK) – 6/10 – Had to be alert to claim a few crosses and did everything required of him. Did well to save Lacazette’s free-kick early in the second half.

Trevoh Chalobah (CB) – 7/10 – Did his chances of staying in the squad no harm. Looked very calm in possession and was solid in the tackle.

Kurt Zouma (CB) – 6/10 – A very Zouma-esque performance. Powerful in the tackle (a little too much so at times) but wobbly when on the ball.

Antonio Rudiger (CB) – 7/10 – Managed the first 45 minutes and looked as solid as ever. Had Arsenal’s forwards scared to take him on at times.

Christian Pulisic (RM) – 5/10 – Had a very tricky start as a wing-back but was moved further forward after the break. Looked a little more comfortale but didn’t do much.

Mateo Kovacic (CM) – 5/10 – Hauled off at half-time after trying to rack up 1,000 yellow cards. Ended up with just one but could have easily been sent for an earlier bath.

Ruben Loftus-Cheek (CM) – 7/10 – Began incredibly hot, bursting forwards and playing some decent passes. Quietened down somewhat as the game went on but continued to make an impact.

Callum Hudson-Odoi (LM) – 7/10 – Cooked on the left wing. Really enjoyed being given space and time to fly forwards and nearly sent Mari back to Brazil with a dummy before the break.

Kai Havertz (AM) – 7/10 – Made up for his miss against Leno last season with an emphatic finish here. Capped off a solid 45 minutes.

Hakim Ziyech (AM) – 7/10 – Got in a lot of good positions and wanted the ball all the time. Should have bagged a goal after the break but hesitated for far too long.

Timo Werner

Werner had a mixed showing / Marc Atkins/Getty Images

Timo Werner (ST) – 6/10 – Had some sloppy moments at times but enjoyed the chance to get in behind Chambers out wide. Looked to have wasted the chance for Havertz’s goal but did well to dig the pass out.

Malang Sarr – 6/10

Dujon Sterling – 7/10

Danny Drinkwater – 6/10

Tammy Abraham – 6/10

Davide Zappacosta – 5/10

N’Golo Kante – 7/10

Michy Batshuayi – 6/10

Kepa Arrizabalaga – 5/10

Baba Rahman – 5/10

Ross Barkley – 5/10

Jake Clarke-Salter – N/A