Following a fairly average first season under Jose Mourinho, large sections of the Old Trafford faithful had expected the axe to fall on Daley Blind’s stay in Manchester this summer. Having successfully avoided the Carrington exit door, however, the Dutch international is finally showing signs of the utility tag to stake his claim for a regular position in the starting XI. Oddly, though, it’s the left-back role that’s looking increasingly like his own.
Despite amassing 23 Premier League appearances last term, the 27-year-old couldn’t claim to be Mourinho’s first-choice selection with any real conviction. His 18 starts in all competitions were bettered by Matteo Darmian’s return of 19, while Luke Shaw’s 17 further highlighted a sense of uncertainty regarding that area of the pitch, although the latter’s injury certainly played a part too. When summer arrivals failed to materialise, a foursome that also includes Marcos Rojo all entered the new campaign with a chance to cement a starting berth. So far, Blind has looked the most likely to grab hold of that opportunity, with Rojo still months away from a return.
While Kris Voakes of Goal.com argues that Shaw’s energy will be the long-term solution, question marks remain over the Englishman’s ability to truly bounce back from the injuries he’s already faced. More tellingly, though, Mourinho’s managerial successes have often been built on defensive solidarity, preferring to chase clean sheets over attacking prowess. While offensive support in the wide areas is an expectation, stability is paramount. Right now, Blind looks the most likely to offer it.
Blind’s sturdy yet unspectacular displays often go unappreciated but his absence against Stoke was evident as the whole United’s backline struggled to cope with Eric Choupo-Moting and company. Without always looking like a player with the attributes associated with a world-class full-back, the Dutchman’s discipline has been key for steady performances. Moreover, it has enabled the attacking player in front, Marcus Rashford or otherwise, to thrive.
The former Ajax’s midfield qualities have certainly helped his, and indeed United’s cause, too. Dutch experts Onlinewedden.com often praised the player’s composure and awareness on the ball as a hallmark of Frank de Boer’s four-time Eredivisie champions. Those same attributes have been important for the Red Devils, who have excelled at breaking teams down with relentless possession and control, throughout the early weeks of 2017-18. Blind’s work has even brought an assist from that defensive berth.
Versatility, coupled with a willingness to work for the team at all times, hurt Blind’s chances of securing a regular place throughout the bulk of bis first three years in Manchester. But as Mourinho continues to develop what is the best squad of the post-Ferguson era, the £14m man is promising to be one of the most dependable names on the team sheet.
Has Blind done enough to cement himself as a guaranteed starter under Mourinho? Perhaps not. Still, as the Red Devils fight for dominance on all fronts, he looks destined to play a vital role. If he keeps showing the qualities that he has in recent weeks, even a fully fit Shaw could struggle to get back in.