Versatility is a trait that is often undervalued and many a time even ignored by football fans. But then who in his right mind would want to see square-ish pegs in round-ish holes, eh? Not many. But English football, especially since the inception of the Premier League has been graced with a glut of specialist footballers who can pretty much play in any position and not look a fish out of water, a trend that has continued to this date and admirably so. The Phil Neville’s, John O’ Shea’s and James Milner’s of football for starters have never been fan favourites but while they don’t sell as many replica shirts as they would have liked to, their contributions, often vital, towards whatever their sides have achieved in the past and present, deserve appreciation. Add to that ever growing list, Manchester United’s very own Dutch midfielder/defender Daley Blind who has been in scintillating form of late, epitomising the side’s recent performances – classy, precise and lethal.
Quite simply, Daley Blind has been their best purchase this season, in a transfer window where they managed to rope in genuine worldies in Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao. While many would argue with that now looking at how quick Ander Herrera has settled in at the club producing match-winning displays, setting the tone against the big sides or even the way Rojo has found himself comfortable for the most of the time at the heart of United’s not-very-convincing defence must be tempting, but to me Daley Blind has been head and shoulders above his fellow new arrivals because of his sheer ability to slot in anywhere and not look out of place.
Daley Blind is primarily a defensive midfielder, sort of what the Dutch call the #6 position, who is required to distribute the ball and launch attacks from the off and also help the defence out, acting as the side’s 3rd central defender when not in possession and particularly when nullifying a counter attack. He’s been doing them all very well at his new club reminding the manager about his inherent versatility and the variety he can offer, something that Louis Van Gaal himself is a huge fan of. Speaking to the club’s in-house channel MUTV, Blind said,
“I like that I can play more positions – I don’t see it as a negative point, I think I can help the team by being like that when we need it. It’s also nice for the manager that he has more options with me. Back at Ajax I used to switch a couple of times during games and I tried to always learn what was needed for each position. It’s now a bit easier for me to switch really quickly in my mind for the different positions so I know what to do where. I think that’s important.”
Daley Blind – The Defensive Midfielder
Of the 19 appearances that he’s made in the Premier League, the 24-year old has predominantly started in the middle of the park (13), sitting just in front of the defence, playing the anchorman role quite effectively. This was largely due to the absence of Michael Carrick owing to injury reasons, but barring the odd game against Leicester City away from home where the lack of pace of the Dutchman was cruelly exposed, he looked alright and even managed to chip in with a couple of vital goals – two crucial and late equalisers against West Bromwich Albion and West Ham United respectively showing signs of his knack to get the odd goal out of nowhere.
Daley Blind had to fill in for Michael Carrick in the central midfield when the latter was unavailable and it is fair to say the Dutchman did more than just a decent job and here’s why. Looking at the numbers, Daley Blind has made more key passes, scored more goals from the middle (and good ones as well), while also managing to contribute more defensively in terms of interceptions and tackles, which are vital to what a defensive midfielder does with regard to breaking up attacks and launching their own. Daley Blind has also created more chances per 90 minutes than Michael Carrick but that is not to say the Dutchman is a better midfielder than Carrick, as the 34-year old is a better passer of the ball with a higher average pass length of 21 meters as opposed to Blind’s 18 and generally a better reader of the game. But the fact that Blind’s numbers make for good reading when pitted against a midfielder as experienced and efficient as Carrick is commendable in itself .
Daley Blind – The Full-back
As Carrick has come in and been helping Man United play its football the much revered ‘United Way’ transitioning seamlessly from defence to attack with brutality and cutting edge, Van Gaal had to play the in-form Blind at left back position partly because of the fact that Luke Shaw was injured at the time but also the ability of Blind to whip the ball from the left like he did at the World Cup in Brazil against Spain setting up what was definitely one of the goals of the tournament. His last three appearances have come at left-back and surprisingly or in his case unsurprisingly, the Dutchman produced 3 near perfect performances helping his side win all of them quite comfortably. His last game against Aston Villa has been the most productive of the three though with him and Ashley Young often causing troubles from that left flank of United where eventually the breakthrough was made from.
Daley Blind completed about 96% of his passes during the game, creating a goal from the left while also managing to maintain a 100% tackle success rate (4/4) against Villa in what should be rightly called the best performance from him in a United shirt, albeit coming at left-back, which is not his favoured position if you like. Though performances like those should keep Luke Shaw awake at night, the 14-million purchase looks to be a bargain now for the fans and the United hierarchy in a summer when they smashed the British transfer record for Di Maria.
Louis Van Gaal looks like he’s finally solved the mystery of finding a place for Carrick, Blind, Mata and Herrera in his system and no wonder the philosophy has started to click as United don’t look clueless in possession or disjointed at the back anymore. One could point the finger at several reasons why the Red Devils are playing as well as they are – Rooney leading the line, Mata and Herrera playing together, Young’s resurgence, Fellaini upping his game and Carrick’s presence in the side but none more pressing than the Dutchman’s multi-functionality.