Manchester United may have endured a disappointing season, but on a personal note Dutch international Daley Blind has been in fine form for much of the campaign.
United boss Louis van Gaal was heavily questioned during the early stages of the season when he decided to convert his compatriot into a centre-half.However, even considering the strong displays of David de Gea, Chris Smalling and Anthony Martial this year, as well as the emergence of many youngsters, Blind has been outstanding and arguably the club’s most improved player.
In Blind’s first season at Old Trafford, he played either in defensive midfield or at left-back and on the face of it, he lacks both the pace and physical presence to be a top-class central defender.
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This term the versatile 26-year-old has gone from being a utility man to playing more Premier League minutes than any other United player. Blind has got better as the season has gone on and after some initial struggles, he’s proved that he possesses the footballing intelligence to succeed at the heart of United’s back four.
Ability on the ball
Usually, teams give the opposition centre-halves time on the ball because they don’t expect them to be able to do anything with it, but with Blind this simply is not the case. He’s good enough to step into midfield, and unlike many United players he always looks to play the ball forward and his football brain simply should not be understated.
Having progressed through the youth ranks at Ajax, Blind has been able to play in a number of positions since a young age and he has all the technical ability one would associate with an academy graduate of the famous Dutch club. He sorts his feet out quickly, he possesses a superb range of passing and he’s even started to take corners for Van Gaal’s team.
This season Blind has looked elegant in possession, produced many incisive passes, and despite his deep position he’s actually been one of United’s most creative players.
From a defensive point of view, the former Ajax star is incredibly calm under pressure, he reads the game exceptionally well and he’s made more tackles in the Premier League than any other United player.
Partnership with Smalling
Blind has also formed a wonderful understanding with England defender Chris Smalling this year and the 26-year-old duo have been Van Gaal’s first-choice central defensive partnership. The consistency shown by both of them in front of world-class goalkeeper David de Gea has contributed massively to the Red Devils having the second best defensive record in the Premier League with only a handful of games to go.
The pair are very different players but their contrasting styles have complemented each other really well this season. Smalling acts as the aggressor, using his speed and strength to dominate centre-forwards, while Blind snuffs out opposition attacks with his tenacity, tackling and anticipation skills.
Blind’s excellent form for Man United has seen him switch to a centre-back role for the Netherlands national team, currently managed by his father Danny Blind.
Surprisingly, the Oranje failed to qualify for Euro 2016 but Blind captained his country to a 2-1 win over England at Wembley in March. At 26, there’s no doubt that Blind will be instrumental as the masters of total football look to mount a more successful 2018 World Cup qualifying campaign later this year.
What does the future hold?
In recent years, European football has started to see lots of midfielders revert to being central defenders, such as Barcelona’s Javier Mascherano and Bayern Munich star David Alaba.
Blind produced another good performance against Leicester on Sunday, and if he continues to operate in the position for a long period of time, he could challenge those players as being one of the continent’s best ball-playing centre-backs.
Who do you think has been United's most improved player this season? Have your say in the comments.