It didn't take long for the inevitable jokes and memes to appear when Manchester United announced their line-up to face Roma on Thursday night.

'United are so confident of reaching the Europa League Final that they've even started Donny van de Beek,' said one.

United's marquee signing of last summer, albeit at the 'bargain price' of £35million, his debut season in English football has been little short of disastrous.

Some cynics have even suggested Ajax ripped United off with their sale of the Dutch international, who Ole Gunnar Solskjaer pounced to purchase when the player's expected move to Real Madrid failed to materialise.

It had all started so well - a debut goal against Crystal Palace and an impressive impact from the bench in a late win over Brighton signalled the promise of such an exciting signing.

Sure, he didn't quite bring the same attacking flair as both Jack Grealish and James Maddison, but his experience in Europe with Ajax was certainly one advantage he held over any of the other candidates. He came at a fraction of the price too.

Van de Beek's dismal dealings in Rome this week will have done little to convince some supporters of his worth to this United team, but it isn't entirely his fault.

Of course the 24-year-old has to accept his performances have been below par since he arrived at Old Trafford last September, but there is mitigation to his slow start to life in the North West.

Firstly is the fact he has moved into a new environment and country at such an awkward time. The last year has hardly been the most welcoming time to arrive in Manchester, a city which was left depleted during a spate of lockdowns, with few places to go and limited opportunities for him to form a bond with the fans.

Secondly is the issue of the packed fixture schedule. On the surface lots of games might look like the ideal platform for Van de Beek to get the ball rolling, however it has also meant few specialist training sessions, with most of the focus simply on recovery and staying fit.

With no proper pre-season and few midweek training sessions Van de Beek has hardly been able to work on tactical shape and his own responsibilities, it's been alarmingly obvious when he's taken to the pitch.

It's an issue Alex Tellles has suffered with as well, with his performances equally underwhelming, while teenage winger Amad is another who still needs more time and mentoring before he can truly be unleashed into the first-team.

Edinson Cavani is the obvious exception, yet he is a veteran, playing in a traditional No.9 role and having already excelled as one in both Italy and France. It's far less of a culture shock for him.

The third factor is that of his actual help when on the pitch. Sporadic game time and the odd minutes at the end of matches are hardly the environment required to build confidence and self-belief, with Van de Beek a victim of Solskjaer's trust in fellow midfielders instead.

Van de Beek struggled to make an impact in Rome

Van de Beek would never start ahead of Bruno Fernandes and Paul Pogba when both fit, nor can he be risked in a deeper role when Fred and Scott McTominay have established themselves as a reliable axis. It really is unfortunate timing for him.

The other issue is that he has no fixed position under Solskjaer. While the Norwegian started him in a central role on Thursday night, Van de Beek was quickly shifted out to the left wing, often anonymous as he struggled to get on the ball.

In glimpses this season he has already shown his brilliance, with fine footwork and intelligent runs off the ball which add an extra dimension to United attacks.

Yet having only played 1271 minutes across 33 appearances in all competitions - it is perhaps understandable why he doesn't quite fit the system yet and why his new teammates still don't know how to get the best from him.

Van de Beek ultimately can have few complaints about his own output on the pitch, but looking at the wider picture it is clear he is not the only one to blame for a messy first season in Manchester.

Solskjaer insists the Dutchman will still have a crucial role to play next season, hence why the club refused to entertain the idea of a loan move in January, and after a proper pre-season we might well see the real Van de Beek.

He is perhaps lucky there is so much mitigation surrounding his poor first year in English football, but there will be no sympathy if he doesn't improve next season.