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Analysis: Just how good can Memphis Depay be for Manchester United?

The highly-touted 21-year-old Dutch international lit up Old Trafford with a stunning performance last night.

Memphis Depay pictured during the Champions League play-off round last night.
Memphis Depay pictured during the Champions League play-off round last night.
Image: Rui Vieira

AFTER A QUIET start to his career in England, Memphis Depay finally looked at home in a Man United shirt against Club Brugge last night.

The 21-year-old Dutch international’s arrival at Old Trafford has inevitably prompted great expectations. Depay signed for a reported fee of €35million, having already made 90 appearances for PSV, as well as featuring 17 times for the Netherlands.

Last season, he played an integral role in his former club’s title-winning campaign, finishing top scorer in the Eredivisie, with 22 goals from 30 appearances, and PSV’s fans showed their clear appreciation for him as a result (see below).

Moreover, he produced an impressive showing at the 2014 World Cup as he helped his side reach the semi-finals of the tournament, becoming Holland’s youngest ever goalscorer at the finals in the process and earning a nomination for Best Young player along with Raphaël Varane and Paul Pogba (the eventual winner).

He also is an example of a youngster who has benefited from playing at a high level from a very young age — Depay has represented Holland at U15, U16, U17, U19 and U21 level, making over 40 appearances for various underage sides before eventually graduating to the senior team.

Source: SportVideosMM/YouTube

He was compared to a United legend, Cristiano Ronaldo, upon his arrival, and while he has much to do to even come close to emulating the Portuguese star, last night, he gave a performance worthy of the Real Madrid man.

Despite only being 21, he showed considerable maturity against the Belgian side. When Man United were under the cosh, it was Depay who took responsibility and changed the game with a match-winning display.

After Club Brugge took a surprise lead in the form of a Michael Carrick own goal after eight minutes, the hosts responded just five minutes thereafter. It started when Carrick made up for his earlier error, producing an incisive pass in the direction of the Dutch youngster.

What Depay did next demonstrated exactly why he is so highly rated. After controlling the ball exquisitely and outfoxing his marker in the process, the winger showed laudable composure.

Wingers are often disdainfully derided as ‘headless chickens’ owing to their tendency to play almost entirely on instinct. Depay, on the other hand, showed considerable footballing intelligence for the first goal. Whereas many players in his situation would shoot immediately after controlling the ball, the Man United starlet had the patience to wait and work an opening before finishing consummately into the corner of the net.

This moment was the real start of a wonderful performance for Depay, who constantly posed a threat. In total, he had 77 touches in the opposition half and eight touches in their box — more than any other player.

Depay looked much more comfortable on this occasion compared with his opening two Premier League games, in which he was noticeably less clinical, before being substituted in both matches. A partial explanation was that against Brugge, Depay stuck much more to his favoured left wing role (although he cut inside on numerous occasions), whereas previously, he often operated in more advanced and central areas in the number 10 role. Even manager Louis van Gaal admitted, in the wake of the victory over Tottenham, that his player has yet to properly fit in to this unfamiliar position, with Januzaj now increasingly being preferred in behind the striker.

Depay’s greater confidence was also replicated in the team’s performance at large. United could have and probably should have won by more, and while they are just one of four Premier League teams to maintain a 100% record after two matches this season, their performances have lacked the sense of vibrancy that was on display on Tuesday night.

And perhaps this settled look can be attributed to Van Gaal picking a rare unchanged XI from the team that beat Villa. While his first season was characterised by constant switches in formation and personnel, the veteran coach at last appears close to discovering his best team, with Depay very much an integral part of proceedings,

Even for the chances that the Dutch starlet failed to convert, he showed signs that he was beginning to form a good understanding with his fellow attackers.

Check out the clip below, for instance, where he uses a decoy run by Adnan Januzaj to create space.

And watch the glorious opportunity below, where he links up well with Wayne Rooney, following superb work down the right by Luke Shaw.

And most importantly of all perhaps, this link-up play with ever-improving full-back Shaw looks a promising work in progress.

“Of course I am really happy for him today,” Shaw told MUTV after the game. “He is working so hard in training; he was really trying to get that first goal. Now he’s off the mark, hopefully it can bring him many more goals.

“I think our relationship is starting to build up, we have played a couple of games together and I am starting to understand how he wants to play.”

“It is great to be playing with him, he can beat a man and he likes the attacking support from me as well — which is something I like to do.”

The 21-year-old winger also showed intelligent movement for his second of the night, before receiving a pinpoint pass from Daley Blind, and registering the type of goal that Ronaldo used to score routinely at Old Trafford.

And to complete a wonderful display, Depay also provided this perfectly executed assist for Man United’s third goal, proving he can imitate David Beckham as well as Ronaldo to all but assure United’s passage to the group stages.

Furthermore, Depay gave a glimpse of his innate perfectionism in a post-match interview, emphasising his disappointment, explaining: “I will forget about it tomorrow, but tonight I will think about that last chance [involving the Rooney backheel].

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His manager, Louis van Gaal, also praised the youngster’s performance, and added to the sense that the player is obsessed with improving his game.

“I am very happy for Memphis because a player needs that,” he said. “I said it was a matter of time and hopefully he shall continue. He is 21 and he has only played two seasons for PSV, I have confidence in him.

“He’s never satisfied. I like that. You have to know what you are doing and also what you can do and then your desire to improve is higher. And that’s Memphis.”

The Twitterati was also suitably impressed, with Real Madrid fans provocatively suggesting he would inevitably join the club next summer, while a number of former and current stars paid tribute to the 21-year-old.

So how good can Depay be? Last night was not the first time he impressed in a United shirt. Check out his clinical, goalscorer’s instincts on show in this pre-season friendly against San Jose Earthquakes.

Yet despite his increasingly encouraging start, Depay has much work to do in order to be a long-term success at Old Trafford.

He is still learning the game — at PSV last season, he had a low rate of assists compared with goals and shots, and was consequently accused of being a ball-hog.

Moreover, the pressure to produce at United is evidently huge. Players with bigger reputations than Depay, including Juan Sebastian Veron, Fabien Barthez and most recently Angel Di Maria, have ultimately failed to thrive in this difficult environment.

Moreover, there is added pressure wearing the iconic number 7 shirt, with George Best, David Beckham and Eric Cantona all donning the famous jersey in the past. Indeed, so strong was the level of expectation on him that Antonio Valencia previously asked to be relieved of this burden.

But the Dutch youngster, in line with his confident persona, reportedly asked Van Gaal if he could be United’s seven this season.

So while there will be much tougher tests to come down the line, for now, the irrepressible Depay appears to have all the necessary attributes to justify the hype.

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Paul Fennessy

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