Daley Blind is perfecting the utility role at Manchester United

Credit: The Mirror
Credit: The Mirror /

Daley Blind’s understated performance in Manchester United’s 1-1 draw with Leicester City demonstrated how he is perfecting the utility role he plays in the squad.

A single moment in the second half illustrated the point. With Jamie Vardy charging down the wing, Blind found himself one-on-one with the Premier League’s in-form player. Unflustered, he stood his ground and retained his composure, edging Vardy towards the touchline and making a timely block.

In that passage of play, the Dutchman further eased concerns regarding his suitability as a centre-back in the Premier League. A lack of pace, strength and height is countered by the fact that he is smarter and more tactically aware than most players in the division.

Against Leicester, in what was a fairly non-eventful game, Blind was also one of the best attacking players on the pitch. It was through his corner-kicks, such as the one that brought about the equaliser through Bastian Schweinsteiger’s header, that United’s attacking hopes lived and died in the game.

And yet it was only last week that he was standing in for long-term absentee Luke Shaw at left-back against Watford. He played his best football from that position last season and has again impressed on the few occasions he’s been deployed there this season.

Furthermore, against Wolfsburg in the Champions League, he started the game in defence but finished in midfield.

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The point is that Blind is capable of starring for United as a centre-back, left-back and defensive midfielder. In the past, the “utility player” label was often used disparagingly, but the Dutchman’s versatility is so important to this current United team that it’s suggested entirely as a compliment.

His adaptability is particularly valuable given that manager Louis Van Gaal has streamlined his squad in the last year and stuck with a smaller, to coin his own phrase, “selection.” Blind’s ability to cover so many positions from week to week without issue is therefore an underappreciated luxury.Were he to pick up an injury, even just a minor one, United would struggle. With Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo unable to stay fit for any length of time this season, Blind has been tasked with switching between centre-back and left-back to cover the duo.

However, to say that he is merely plugging holes in the squad is to do him an injustice. His performances at centre-back this season have arguably put him above Jones and Rojo in the pecking order.

In fact, with the exception of Chris Smalling, David De Gea and possibly Anthony Martial, no United player has outperformed Blind in the first few months of the campaign.

When Blind was unveiled as a United player in September 2014, the focus – perhaps naturally – was on Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao, both of whom were signed at virtually the same time. The two South Americans were high-profile, exciting signings. By contrast, Blind was seen as an unexciting purchase, someone who improved the squad but not necessarily the starting XI.

But where Falcao flopped and Di Maria struggled with Van Gaal’s overly prescriptive brand of football, Blind has steadily gone about his business and demonstrated his comfort in three different positions.

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It’s difficult to think of a player in the current Manchester United squad more tactically flexible than Blind in that sense, which immediately makes him one of Van Gaal’s most important players.

Before being left on the bench for United’s game against Everton in October, Van Gaal had in fact started Blind in every single Premier League game for which he was fit and available since joining the club last year.

That’s a mark of the trust Van Gaal places in Blind. It’s unlikely that United’s next manager – whether it’s Ryan Giggs, Pep Guardiola or someone else – will make the Dutchman such a key figure in the squad, but right now he is flourishing in a Jack-of-all-trades role.

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The job description of a utility player is ultimately to fill in for team-mates missing due to injuries or suspensions. By forcing his way into contention in three different positions, offering competition to those who are specialists in that area of the pitch, Blind is perfecting an unglamorous but important role.