Everton were supposed to be his escape. Donny van de Beek had endured a false-start to his time in English football. After starting just four Premier League games in his first season at Manchester United, he found game time just as hard to come by in the first half of this campaign. A January loan move to Everton looked to be the best move for all sides. Donny would play more football and The Toffees would benefit from a top quality addition in midfield.
It has not quite worked out as hoped, with injuries limiting the Netherlands international to just six appearances since switching to Goodison Park. Van de Beek returns to the squad for the visit of Crystal Palace on Thursday night. With a trip to Arsenal to follow on the final day, these remaining games are not just vital for Everton’s Premier League survival, but for Van de Beek himself.
Many reasons have been given for Donny’s United struggles. Some fans laid the blame at the door of then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With the Red Devils’ midfield often faltering, few could understand why ‘VDB’ was not deployed more often. The counter-argument is that Van de Beek was a signing Solskjaer never asked for. The midfielder was essentially purchased because he was available, and the club wanted a star name to unveil during a summer in which they struggled to land primary targets Jadon Sancho and Jude Bellingham. Whatever school of thought you subscribe to, the Dutchman has endured a torrid time in the Premier League.
His Everton tenure has not been much better. Manager Frank Lampard has been more receptive to using the ex-Ajax star, but has not often had the option to do so. Van de Beek joined the club on January 31, during a frantic deadline day that also saw the permanent signing of Tottenham Hotspur’s Dele Alli. The signing of two big-name midfielders was a cause for optimism at the time, but the moves have not worked. Everton find themselves still mathematically able to go down with two games left to play, while neither Van de Beek nor Alli have made a difference to their fortunes. The ray of light in Van de Beek’s situation is that his absence has largely been due to injury, whereas Dele has only made nine appearances largely due to not meeting the required levels of performance.
Having returned from the thigh injury that has kept him off the Goodison Park grass, Van de Beek now has two games to leave Evertonians with happy memories of him. The stakes could not be any higher. The Toffees hold the record for the most top flight seasons in English football with 118, but if they don't act fast then next season will be spent in the second tier.
Everton remain favourites to survive the drop, given the fact they are currently 16th, have a game in hand over Leeds United in 17th and are two points clear of 18th-placed Burnley. But complacency over these last two games would be fatal. A win over Palace on Thursday will lift Everton to safety, and you can bet Lampard will be drilling into his team the importance of clinching survival before the often-chaotic final day on Sunday. With his return set to come against the Eagles, Van De Beek has an opportunity to impress in a vital game.
The 25-year-old will want to help his loan side stay up, but there is another motivating factor for the midfielder over the course of these next two games. They offer Donny van de Beek a chance to impress the man who will be his manager at Manchester United next season, Erik ten Hag.
Of course, the Dutch pair know each other well from their time as player and coach together at Ajax. But Van de Beek can demonstrate his value as a Premier League player if he can put on a pair of confident displays for his temporary club this week. With a raft of midfielders leaving Old Trafford, such as Paul Pogba, Nemanja Matic and Juan Mata, there are places to be won in the first team. Ten Hag will know his transfer budget is finite, and that he will have to look within the walls of Carrington for at least some of his solutions. With strong performances at the end of his troubled Everton tenure, Van de Beek can mark himself out as one of those solutions.
Thoughts of Old Trafford can wait though. For now, Van de Beek is an Everton player. His team have a full plate, with two of the most important fixtures of their modern history to contend with. The marriage of Donny and Everton has not quite worked, but the Dutch midfielder can perhaps provide some tender moments for the photo album on Thursday and Sunday.
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