It hasn’t been an overly inspiring couple of weeks for Manchester United. Since the end of the international break, the only ray of sunshine has been Wednesday’s 3-1 EFL Cup triumph, and that was only against newly promoted League One side Northampton Town. That was preceded by three consecutive losses, with league defeats against Manchester City and Watford either side of a Europa League defeat to Feyenoord. With this recent poor run of form in mind, United could really stand to benefit from some changes.
From those three games, the area that’s most in need of improvement is the midfield. In all three games, and especially the last two, United’s midfield has been extremely disappointing, with the only good coming out of it being the defensive midfielder on the pitch doing the basics of what they’re assigned to do well. Aside from this, it has been a complete mess. Out of possession, there’s been zero intent in pressing, and when they’re in possession, they’re quickly not anymore after the simplest of passes end up in the feet of an opposition player, and while the midfield of the Northampton game was impressive, it was against an opposition that didn’t give them any pressure. To really be a force in the top flight and in Europe, a change needs to be made, and one possible idea is to move Daley Blind back into midfield.
For the past year, Blind has been playing in the heart of defence. What started as the answer of an injury problem ended up being a regular fixture in the lineup. But Blind was signed as a midfielder and has put in many fine performances in midfield for United as well. With the United midfield in the state it currently is, what does Blind bring to the table that can improve it?
If Blind’s spell in defence has taught us anything, it’s that his reading of the game is impeccable. What made him such a good defensive partner for either Chris Smalling or Eric Bailly is that he always knows exactly when to step up win the ball, spending the most of his time on the defensive line. With Blind’s midfield experience, this can easily translate into a highly effective pressing game. He could play next to a more advanced midfielder, say Paul Pogba, or in the base of a midfield triangle, and he’d sit back until he sees the right time to press, which would fix the current midfield’s laziness in that area.
And when he’s in possession, that eye for reading the game turns into an eye for picking a pass. Blind has always been the one to start the build-up from deep. He’s a very tidy passer in close quarters, and he can also play attackers in with incisive through balls from deep. With Blind in midfield, not only will the sloppy passing disappear, United would have the right outlet for more positive passing.
So this seems like an open and shut case, right? Blind seems like the perfect piece to finish the puzzle that is the United midfield. Well, that might be the case but there’s just one problem: Blind is sstillUnited’s best defender.
Last season, Smalling turned over a new leave and became one of the best defenders in the league, while Bailly started his United career by winning the club’s Player of the Month award for August. It’s no coincidence that both play their best with Blind next to them. When the two of them are paired together, things don’t go as well. Watford’s second goal is a prime example, when neither defender was anywhere near the danger, requiring Pogba and Marouane Fellaini to fill in.
This is because both defenders prefer to play on the front foot, chasing down the ball away from the defensive line. This is why Blind is so important. While Bailly or Smalling is out chasing the ball, Blind is what holds the defence together. His positioning is vital to the defence, as without him, the two defenders that remain are too proactive to keep the defence intact.
And it’s not as if Blind isn’t the only hope the United midfield has. Morgan Schneiderlin and Michael Carrick both impressed against Northampton, and neither of them has had much chance to make a mark this season. Blind could fill the hole in midfield, but that could create an even bigger hole in defence.