Donny van de Beek made his first start under Erik ten Hag against Aston Villa today and showed that he has some work to do ahead of the new season.
Scott McTominay was unavailable for selection, making room in the side for the midfielder.
Many will have expected the change to be like-for-like, although the new boss opted for a formation switch governed by the personnel available to him.
The new manager had previously stated that he sees Donny as best placed behind the striker, but the player himself has expressed his commitment to play wherever the team needs him.
However, the formation switch would suggest that he does not see Donny in a double pivot.
Against a strong Villa team that set out to pack their midfield, flipping his triangle to give both of his number tens room to roam represented something of a risk.
With those two pushing up, Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof showed early signs of difficulty in progressing the ball, with Fred – the only midfielder in the vicinity for a short pass – often caught behind Villa’s line of three narrow attackers.
United did manage to carve out openings down the flanks, in particular down the left when a good combination between Bruno Fernandes, Marcus Rashford and Luke Shaw led to a fine finish from Jadon Sancho.
However United’s build up had no such joy on the right, where Van de Beek could not link up to similar effect with Sancho and Diogo Dalot, neither of whom did much wrong.
A couple of sloppy passes from the Dutchman when put under pressure did not help matters and Aston Villa noticeably had their best spells of possession on that side in the opening 45 minutes, although they made nothing of those opportunities in the first half.
They did start to make inroads down United’s left flank in the second hand, when Van de Beek and Bruno Fernandes swapped sides, but it would be unfair on Leon Bailey to put that entirely down to United’s switch.
It is important to caveat the Netherlands international’s uninspiring display with another couple of points.
Van de Beek was making his first start of the tour in difficult conditions on a pitch that has been deluged by sport as much as rain.
Having been used as a second-half substitute in each of United’s first three games, this is also the first time he has shared a pitch with many of the starting players, outside of 15 minutes against Crystal Palace.
He did end up with an assist in that game, so there is hope that he can gel with his teammates in time.
However, he must still respond to his manager’s call to “prove himself” if he is to see much improvement on his paltry eight league starts in two years going forward.
If he fails to heed the call soon, it may force United’s hand in the transfer window sooner rather than later.