Just when it looked as though Manchester United had secured their left-back options for the new season, news broke that Patrice Evra was leaving Man United for Juventus. Now the search begins for another player to shadow Luke Shaw. Could Daley Blind be the stand-out candidate in more ways than one?
Though he may have announced himself to the 2014 World Cup in Brazil this summer from left-back—floating over the cross from deep to allow Robin van Persie to score his landmark header against Spain—the Dutchman played mostly as a defensive midfielder for Ajax last season, a role he also reprised for Louis van Gaal after an injury sidelined Nigel de Jong.
Blind has also played as the left-side centre-back in the Netherlands' 3-4-3 system against Argentina, dropping back alongside Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij when Jordy Clasie was sent on to replace Bruno Martins Indi to shore up the midfield.
This versatility could be just as useful to his national coach in van Gaal's new job at Old Trafford, where cover will be needed beyond the left-back position that looks set to be dominated by the club's £30 million new signing Shaw. Midfield and central defence remain problematic areas due to a lack of quality new recruits and a worrying knack for collecting injuries respectively in recent seasons.
For fans who have grown all too used to watching United go without genuine back ups in these key areas, the idea of signing a player able to cover all three positions should appeal to their heads if not excite their hearts. And yet Blind has been one of the lesser stars of the World Cup this summer, and a key figure for his country in their unexpected surge through to the semi-finals. The Netherlands had been written off as no-hopers by their own press prior to the tournament as if destined to drop out at the first sign of trouble in the group stage. Blind's ability to step into whatever breaches appeared within the left-side of defence and midfield amid the wear and tear of this intense, two-month competition was vital to ensuring momentum and opportunities were not lost.
United will be needing to keep the pressure up on the teams near the summit of the league throughout the season to come if they are to regain their top four billing and make the most of any dips suffered by Liverpool, Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester City and other contenders such as Tottenham Hotspur. Having a player like Blind, who can slip into a number of roles on the field, could be a major asset in ensuring that ground is gained, not lost, when others slip up regardless of fitness issues or form.
Evra departs Old Trafford as one of the finest players to ever wear the No. 3 shirt in United's history, but in Shaw, the club have signed perhaps the perfect prospect to replace the Frenchman's skill, speed, energy and attacking threat on the overlap. Having emerged as one of the most complete full-backs in the Premier League for Southampton in 2012, then just 17, he now looks set to blossom as the direct successor to the marauding, Juventus-bound full-back.
However, there's no guarantee that he will be able to play almost every minute of the season as Evra used to. Previously, the French international's incredible aversion to injury saw United's failure to secure an adequate back-up and competition for his position go untested.
Rather than signing another Alexander Buttner, unable to properly shoulder the responsibility but mediocre enough to justify spending most of his time on the bench, Blind would provide van Gaal with injury cover at left-back and more.
With Shaw well-suited to assuming the role vacated by Evra—of playing almost as an auxiliary winger bursting up from the back line to beat opponents and attack the box—the Dutchman would also offer a contrasting, alternative option for his manager to make use of when needed.
Though less explosive than United's new £30 million starlet, Blind is far from effective going forward. As you'd expect of someone who splits their time between full-back and midfield, he is more of a passer than a dribbler—in the mould of Leighton Baines rather than a rampaging wing-back—and defensively robust.
He isn't immobile by any means, and has been shuttling the ball up and down the pitch whenever he was played wide at the World Cup this summer, but he would be a more stable presence than Shaw or Evra, holding up the ball, crossing from deep and playing in more rapid runners with diagonal passes from wide.
Blind is unlikely to want to leave his first-team billing at Ajax for a life warming the subs bench at Old Trafford behind Shaw however, yet the state of United's midfield at present means that it's unlikely he would go without regular games somewhere in the team.
Ander Herrera was already arrived from Athletic Bilbao to add the combative creativity that has looked beyond Tom Cleverley, and talk persists of a major move for Arturo Vidal or Angel di Maria to dramatically upgrade the quality available to van Gaal through the middle of the team, but the Dutchman could still do with another option in defensive midfield.
Michael Carrick looks set to be the more considered component of the midfield, intercepting loose balls and playing simple, safe passes to retain possession, but at the age of 32 his days of him being ever-present in the team may be coming to an end, and with Darren Fletcher's health problems still a potential issue, another reliable figure could be required to balance the midfield.
Blind played a similar role to Carrick for Ajax last season, screening the defence and keeping his team's passing game ticking over. When not needed to cover Shaw at left-back, he could find opportunities to play in place of Carrick & co. as a holding midfielder.
Left-sided central defender in a back three
While few utility players can match the amount of positions played by John O'Shea during his United career—the Irishman even popped in goal when the team required him to—Blind would certainly be worthy of being hailed as one if he were to move to Old Trafford.
As well as being able to play as a left-back, either in the back four of a 4-3-3 or as the wide midfielder in a 3-4-3, and as a holding midfielder, Blind could also drop back into the left-sided central defender role in a three-man defence.
Thomas Vermaelen is said to be a target for van Gaal, who will want a left-footed player in the squad able to bring the ball out of defence on their natural side, but Ajax's midfielder-cum-full-back has played in that exact role for both the Netherlands and also appeared in central defence for his club last season.
A squad featuring Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones may sound well-stocked for centre-backs but given their injury woes in recent years, United could do with another back-up, especially one also able to provide depth to other sections of the team.
- Sports & Recreation
- Manchester United
- Daley Blind
- Patrice Evra
- Luke Shaw
- Louis van Gaal
- Old Trafford