Louis van Gaal’s Netherlands side proved in their thrilling 3-2 comeback victory over Australia that they don’t just play pretty, they can win a battle as well.
One man that has particularly stood out in their opening two victories is Daley Blind, who has been heavily linked with Manchester United in recent weeks. Partaking in his first major tournament, the Ajax star has repaid the faith shown in him by his manager with some stellar performances that have epitomised the new-look Dutch style of play.
Blind was recently crowned Dutch footballer of the year and spent his youth developing in Ajax’s famous academy, he boasts many of the qualities that we have come to expect from players that have graduated from the Amsterdam outfit’s ranks. His flamboyant attacking nature is complimented by his prominent defensive capabilities, which has led to all the transfer speculation that he currently refuses to comment on.
"I entirely close out all that reports. I am now here at the Dutch national team and that is where I want to focus myself on," he told NOS.
The 24-year-old’s attacking prowess, coupled with his intelligent vision, helped in creating four chances for the Netherlands against the World Cup holders Spain, and to devastating effect. Two of those four chances resulted in goals, including the inch-perfect ball that set up Van Persie’s incredible headed equaliser.
This is not a surprise for many who were fortunate enough to catch the Dutchman playing for Ajax last season. He created 37 chances in his 29 appearances over the course of the campaign, claiming one assist.
Luke Shaw emerged as the number one target for United at the start of the summer, despite them having handed Patrice Evra a new one-year extension, but Southampton are reluctant to accept a deal any less than £30million.
And with Ajax unlikely to demand much more than £12million for Blind, he has materialised as perhaps the more attractive option. He has a few extra years’ experience over the English youngster and could potentially be better prepared for the pressures that lie ahead in restoring United as a force in the Premier League.
He completed 76 interceptions during Ajax’s title-winning season, over double the amount that Shaw made for Southampton, despite the Dutchman making six less appearances. Blind’s 64 tackles also proved an improvement on Shaw who won just 61. But most surprising is that he also proved to be better than his potential transfer rival going forward, with his creativity proving a vital part of his ability to switch between defence and midfield, as Ajax often field him in a defensive midfield role.
Although despite this the new United manager sees Blind primarily as a left-back, having been impressed with his wing play and defensive responsibility. But the fact that he could provide an answer to two of United’s conundrums should work in his favour.
He has earned a significant amount of his plaudits in a defensive midfield role, tasked with recycling and retaining possession and has proved to be accomplished guard of his back four. Michael Carrick is the man charged with the same task at Old Trafford but the Englishman lacks aggression and is not a huge presence in the middle of the park.
Blind’s defensive attributes help him to be more of a commanding, positionally aware force while at the same time remaining calm and composed on the ball. He is versatile and much more than a defensive shield as he can also help to provide an attacking thrust that has been often missing from United’s current midfield contingent.
At £12million he is certainly going to be a great piece of business for one of Europe’s top clubs this summer, with Van Gaal currently in pole position to acquire the star's signature.
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