It almost still seems strange to think Daley Blind has become one of the best central defenders in the Premier League, but if you watch him closely, the statement proves itself very true. Blind’s ability to adhere to the defending textbook with such grace allows him to compensate for the fact he isn’t a true defender. His ability to then pass the ball like no other central defender in the world puts him over the edge.
Eric Bailly often, if not always, earns the plaudits for his central defensive work, which reflects that of physical dominance and technical development. Blind, however, is unlucky not to earn the plaudits for his defensive duties, which have proven a masterclass in technique and intelligence for years. English Premier League regulars will always proclaim just how underrated Michael Carrick is. On a further level down, nobody even knows just how important Blind is to United because he’s become somewhat of a forgotten man.
Blind’s colossal, and continually growing, tactical importance to United is immense. Not only is he, quite clearly, United’s most assured defender, he has also grown into one of the best in the Premier League, perhaps only behind Tottenham’s Toby Alderweireld and Arsenal’s Laurent Koscielny. Blind’s intelligence allows him to complete interceptions and covers the gaps between United’s defenders. Quietly nullifying opposition attacks, he then receives the ball and plays it forward with grace and accuracy, which is particularly important when playing alongside Marouane Fellaini.
Blind, originally purposed as a central defender for possession systems, instead became the perfect solution for counter-attacking. His defending, almost completely developed and sure to improve with age, allows him to pick up the ball, or receive it from Bailly, and start counter-attacks with some of the most incisive passing the Premier League has ever seen. At the heart of the defence, Blind has also subtly become the key leader, instructing his defenders by examining situations as quickly as possible.
One thing I cannot explain is just how intelligent Blind is. He’s the most intelligent footballer at United, and perhaps in the Premier League. Ask any striker- the prospect of coming up against a footballer smarter than you are worse than that of coming up against one taller, faster and stronger than you. Every striker that was supposedly going to find Blind out last season, most notably Romelu Lukaku and Sergio Aguero, was deemed completely ineffective when planted in front of Blind to ‘expose his weaknesses’. United won both fixtures 1-0.
With the vision to remember, the ability to create brilliance and the most technical of movements on the ball, Blind becomes an eye-catching defender, able to neutralize physical deficiencies with flawless technical brilliance and the use of a system that masks any potential weaknesses (alongside Bailly). Pep Guardiola is on the other side of Manchester, perhaps wishing he had players in the mould of David de Gea, Blind, Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia and Luke Shaw- strangely enough, they are perfect for his system, while many believed they wouldn’t be for Jose Mourinho’s.
If Blind’s central defensive experiment cannot yet be considered a claim to success, consider the following- United has conceded one goal in three Premier League games, scoring six in the process. Conceding fewer goals than any other side and scoring the joint-third most, Blind is key to both of those aspects of United’s match-winning form. Mourinho, seemingly set to write him off, arguably rates Blind even more than Chris Smalling, and for good reason- he’s on the verge of becoming a world-class footballer, his influence on United does not wane, he’s the smartest player on the pitch and he’s the best central defender at United.