Everyone can agree that Daley Blind isn’t a natural centre-back, not in terms of his physique, height or strength.
It is with little surprise that his new role in the position has left many Manchester United fans questioning their manager Louis van Gaal, opposing fans excited at the prospect of their forwards taking advantage of the situation.
However, he played there during the entire pre-season tour of America and controlled a back four that kept yet another clean sheet against Aston Villa on Friday night.
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With Van Gaal’s unwillingness to sign a centre-back such as Nicolas Otamendi in the current transfer window, Blind could be a permanent fixture at the heart of United’s defence.
The fact that Blind has played a lot of football as a holding midfielder means that he is assured in possession and extremely calm on the ball, which helps him to play out from the back as Van Gaal likes his teams to do.
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Additionally, the Dutchman has a tremendously intelligent football brain and it’s his astute understanding of the game that has prevented him from being caught out up until now.
His reading of the game is second to none and although he isn’t blessed with great pace, his awareness and competent passing range mean that he could succeed as a ball-playing centre-half, just like former defensive midfielder Javier Mascherano, who only stands at 5ft 8” tall, has done at Barcelona.
Blind, who also played under Van Gaal during the Netherlands’ successful 2014 World Cup campaign, has a very good relationship with his manager and the two of them both trust in each other’s capabilities.
This has translated into Blind being able to execute Van Gaal’s philosophy with great proficiency over the past 12 months and in turn Van Gaal having the belief in Blind’s qualities to deploy him in different positions, usually at left-back or defensive midfield.
Blind himself is aware of the critics that have questioned Van Gaal’s decision to now play him at centre-back but he insists that he is clever enough to do the job.
HOW HAS HE DONE?
Despite being roughed up and outmuscled on a few occasions by the likes Harry Kane and Moussa Dembele against Tottenham last week and being widely criticised for that performance, Blind looked very comfortable in the role at Villa Park and we started to see a leader emerging from within him as he commanded those around him.
He made some good tackles and interceptions and generally snuffed out any potentially dangerous situations in a calm manner, which was especially difficult when he was up against towering centre-forward Rudy Gestede.
It’s worth mentioning that while the new partnership of Chris Smalling and Blind defended well, they were both protected in exceptional fashion by new signing Morgan Schneiderlin. Blind picked up the man of the match award and after the game he praised the team performance, the compact nature of United’s defensive shape, and expressed his satisfaction at limiting Aston Villa to just one shot on target in front of their own supporters.
It’s too early to make a definitive judgement yet regarding Blind in his new role and so United fans will still have their reservations about it, and rightly so because he will get much tougher tests over the coming weeks and months than he received at Villa Park.
Blind faces a lot of competition as a central defender from the currently unavailable Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo to youngsters Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett, but he is possibly starting to show that he might be intelligent enough to follow in the footsteps of his father, current Netherlands coach Danny Blind, by being an accomplished centre-back under six feet tall.
The question is, can Manchester United compete in Europe and win trophies if Daley Blind remains at centre back throughout the season?
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