A number of injuries to key defenders early on this season has offered Manchester United defender Tyler Blackett an unexpected dream chance to stake his claim to Louis van Gaal. And following several promising performances, there are suggestions this youngster has a bright future at the club.
Primarily a left-back, Blackett found himself employed on the left side of Van Gaal's back-three in the opening games this season and, for the most part, appeared calm, confident and dependable.
Van Gaal praise
While his youth and inexperience were apparent from time to time, he was praised for his promising early performances by Van Gaal, particularly after providing the assist for Marouane Fellaini's late winner against Valencia at Old Trafford, with the Dutch manager an obvious admirer of the young defender.
Despite poor team performances in United's opening three Premier League games, Blackett continued to work hard, making several key clearances to rescue a point against Sunderland as the team struggled to adjust to an alien 3-5-2 formation.
His best performance, however, came in the 4-0 victory over QPR where, having been moved to centre-back with the restoration of a 4-4-2 diamond, he dealt with the opposition confidently and securely and looked at home alongside the more experienced Jonny Evans.
Blackett has showcased his immense potential
With the likes of Evans, Rojo, Jones and Smalling all likely ahead of him in the pecking order, when fully fit, Blackett has already demonstrated his incredible potential and endeared himself to his boss, with Van Gaal a well-known proponent of offering youth a chance to prove themselves in the starting line-up.
At just 20 years of age, Blackett still has room to improve and further build upon his confidence in possession and awareness of the game and there is no better boss than van Gaal to aid his development. Tall, strong and powerful, Blackett has announced himself loudly and will provide the perfect competition to the existing crop, both at centre-back and left-back.
Blackett demonstrates his commitment
Much of his fast rise from youth-team loanee to first-eleven starter has been down to his commitment and enthusiasm to learn, suggests former-skipper Gary Neville, who revealed: "In a corridor at Carrington at 3pm, I came across Tyler Blackett sitting on his own, with a computer on his lap, studying clips of his performance in the 2-1 home defeat to Swansea City."
Fellow academy graduate Jonny Evans has also been impressed with his fellow defender, stating on the club's official website: "I've been very impressed. He is left-footed, so it has been good for the balance on the left-hand side. He's also a very strong and powerful lad, and it's surprised me how good his passing has been. He's done really well."
Van Gaal: Blackett still developing
However, despite a very promising start, Van Gaal has made it clear that Blackett is still in a development stage and will not be guaranteed a starting position once the injury issues have been resolved.
'The most important thing is not the system but the philosophy," the Dutch coach insisted. "Tyler Blackett is a little bit lucky because a lot of central defenders are injured. He made a very good performance but there are also other defenders to come.'
Nevertheless, Blackett has staked a strong claim and could follow the likes of Adnan Januzaj in making a brisk leap from the academy to the first team.
With plenty of room to develop and a manager who isn't afraid to offer him a chance at the top level, Blackett could well become an important player for United in years to come.