Daley Blind already in danger of Manchester United axe

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Daley Blind is still adjusting to life at Manchester United following his £14 million summer transfer from Ajax, but the Netherlands international must become a more physically imposing and aggressive figure in order to nail down the holding midfield role at Old Trafford on a permanent basis.

It's hard not to feel that Blind, 24, was a last resort for United boss Louis van Gaal. Had the veteran Dutch coach been absolutely convinced about his ability to play in defensive midfield, he would have been one of the first names through the door at Old Trafford.

As it happened, he was one of the last. Blind completed his move to Manchester United on the final day of the transfer window, after it had become clear that the Red Devils no longer stood any chance of signing the likes of Arturo Vidal or William Carvalho.

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Van Gaal left with little choice but to sign Blind

Because of Blind's versatility, Van Gaal gambled and coughed up the £14 million Ajax were asking for. In the end, though, he was left with little choice. Had he rejected the chance, United would have been left without a recognised holding midfielder for the first half of the 2014/15 campaign.

But the fact Van Gaal used Blind as a left-sided wing-back during the World Cup finals in Brazil, rather than a midfield enforcer, speaks volumes about how highly - or not - the former Barcelona and Bayern Munich boss rates the new Manchester United signing in that defensive midfield position.

Concerns about Blind's performances

Blind has been praised for his early performances, but there have been a few concerning signs that Van Gaal will have noted.

On his debut, against Queens Park Rangers earlier this month, Blind was effective in possession but often outmuscled or beaten for pace in one-on-one duels with his international teammate Leroy Fer.

He also struggled at times - again, in terms of the physical side of the game - during the 5-3 defeat to Leicester City at the King Power Stadium a week later, and during Saturday's 2-1 win over West Ham.

United need a world-class holding midfielder

In possession, Blind has been very impressive. He is blessed with a sweet left foot and possesses a useful knack of making the right decision in terms of his choice of passing.

But a Manchester United defensive midfielder needs to have a little more about him.

Since 2005, every defensively-minded midfielder to sign for the Red Devils has been compared to United legend Roy Keane, who was aggressive, committed, technically sound and talismanic. A true leader and one of the greatest players of the Premier League era.

Finding someone to fill the huge void left by the fiery Irishman has proved an impossible task - although United will forever regret their failure to tie Paul Pogba down to a long-term contract.

The likes of Liam Miller, Eric Djemba-Djemba and Owen Hargreaves have come and gone - and Blind will be desperately hoping he manages to avoid adding his name to that infamous list of players. But that might be easier said than done.

Blind must shine over next few weeks

United have some very difficult fixtures on the horizon - Everton, West Brom away, Chelsea, Manchester City and, after a home tie against Crystal Palace, an away trip to Arsenal - and Blind could be left badly exposed unless he quickly adjusts to the physical nature of the Premier League.

How will he fare in a duel against Chelsea's Nemanja Matic, for example, or Manchester City's Fernando, Fernandinho and Yaya Toure?

United to sign Strootman or Vifal?

Failure to shine in these crunch matches will almost certainly result in Van Gaal persuading Ed Woodward and the Glazer family to splash the cash on a first-class holding midfielder when the transfer window re-opens in January.

Vidal is still on Van Gaal's radar, while AS Roma's Dutch international Kevin Strootman is believed to be his top target.

Van Gaal based his Netherlands team around Strootman, 24, until he succumbed to injury before the World Cup finals in Brazil.

Blind could become £14m bench-warmer

The veteran Dutch coach ended up using Nigel de Jong - another reported Manchester United target - as his main defensive midfielder during the showpiece international tournament. Again, this indicates that Blind, in the eyes of Van Gaal, is more of a defender than holding midfielder.

However, Blind must make the defensive midfield position his own to avoid becoming a bench-warmer at Old Trafford.

Luke Shaw is a better left-back/wing-back than Blind, who has virtually no chance of displacing the £27 million England international as one of Manchester United's first-choice full-backs.

And while it's reported that he can play as a centre-back, Van Gaal's decision to play the inexperienced Paddy McNair over Blind in central defence on Saturday suggests we'll never see the Dutchman lining up as one of United's two or three centre-backs.

He's not going to be the new Roy Keane, that much is clear, and unless he can hold his own against some of the Premier League's best midfielders over the coming weeks he could end up becoming a versatile utility player like John O'Shea instead as Van Gaal signs an upgrade in the New Year.

Arturo Vidal
Kevin Strootman
Manchester United
Premier League

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