The new Premier League campaign starts this weekend with Manchester United and new manager Louis Van Gaal kicking the new season off at home to Swansea City.
After a shocking 2013-14 campaign which saw the former champions finish in a lowly seventh position, the Red Devils are looking to recover and get back to where they believe they belong this time around.
Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera were acquired early on in this transfer window for a combined £60million but since then there has been no real indication of who else Van Gaal is targeting to improve the current squad. Arturo Vidal, Juan Cuadrado, Mats Hummels and Angel Di Maria have all been heavily linked to the club in recent weeks but so far, there have been few signs that the Dutchman is ready to make his next move in the market. Thomas Vermaelen would have added depth to the centre of the defence but United were unwilling to consider the swap deal which Arsenal wanted, meaning the Belgian subsequently joined Barcelona.
It could be argued that United are in need of desperate reinforcements in several key areas of the team and although Van Gaal may not agree that such a drastic overhaul is required, worries are still rife amongst fans who witnessed a disaster at Old Trafford last year. They have just three senior central defenders, meaning that area has to be a priority, especially when you consider they have moved to a formation that uses three centre backs. The centre of midfield needs a re-vamp too despite Herrera’s welcome arrival, whilst players are also needed on the left and right of the defence and on the wings, should Van Gaal want to have some tactical flexibility this season.
One man that could provide plenty of youth, talent and depth to this somewhat unbalanced squad is Van Gaal’s utility man from his Dutch World Cup squad, Daley Blind. According to the Daily Mail, the Dutchman has made the Ajax man and Di Maria his two main transfer targets ahead of the new campaign as he looks to add width to a squad with far too many central attacking midfielders.
But Blind would offer so much more than just width. Although he was predominantly used as a left wing-back at the World Cup, the 24-year-old played in central midfield for Ajax at stages last year and could easily be used as a left central defender in United’s new formation. It is this versatility that Van Gaal finds so enticing, not purely because he can play in two positions but for the fact that United are in need of reinforcements in so many areas. Blind would be a temporary solution to three of the areas that need strengthening until more suitable, specialised players become available.
Two examples of Blind performances from 2014 show this point off perfectly. Firstly, in the 5-1 humiliation of holders Spain in the World Cup opener, Blind was able to put in an unbelievable display at left full back, in the system United are planning on playing this season. He was able to get up-and-down the wing, doing his attacking and defensive duties superbly throughout.
Blind was able to get two assists in that game and created a further two chances on goal. His passes were incisive and he was also able to win two tackles and 100% of his aerial duels in that match.
The second example shows Blind in a deep midfield role towards the back end of an Eredivisie season which saw him pick up the Player of the Year award. Although that league is not as strong as the Premier League, he showed that he is capable of controlling a game from the middle of the park. In Ajax’s away draw with Heracles, Blind completed 96% of his passes, acting as a fantastic screen in front of the defence. If United are unable to secure the services of Arturo Vidal, Blind is capable of making the step up and would be a great alternative to the Chilean.
After the news that United turned down a deal to sign Vermaelen, we now know that Van Gaal is after a left-footed central defender before the end of August. If there are no others currently available in the summer, Blind could also act as a stop-gap until one becomes available in January. Yes, the Ajax defender can’t be in three positions at once but he would be able to act as cover in all three areas.
Blind’s versatility is not purely positional, he is very experienced in tactical systems that Van Gaal prefers, whether it be his traditional 4-3-3, a 5-3-2 or a 3-4-1-2, meaning he would need no time to adapt. After playing in every game at the World Cup, it is obvious the United manager has faith in Blind and it seems logical that he will turn to the 24-year-old as time is running out to strengthen his squad.
Related Teams: Manchester United