Manchester United’s Chris Smalling has justifiably declared that Daley Blind, the Dutchman who has become his central defensive partner, has “put the critics to bed,” having emerged as one of the most improbable successes of the club’s season.
Blind’s apparent lack of pace created scepticism when he was asked to take on a central role in a defence which required re-organisation after Luke Shaw’s season came to a premature end last autum. His emasculation of Romelu Lukaku against Everton on Sunday underlined why Louis van Gaal has maintained trust in him.
Neither Blind nor Smalling are entirely consistent defensively and though both display an ability to bring the ball out of defence – a pre-requisite for the modern-day centre half – there are occasions when a greater defensive contrast would be more ideal: one as the linchpin, the other as the distributor. But United’s defensive record – 27 conceded: better than every other side bar Tottenham Hotspur – does speak for itself and Smalling the two of them had developed an intuition.
“Ever since he joined the club he has rarely been injured. He has been able to bang out the games and have a very high consistency,” he said. “As [an] obviously.. natural midfielder, he has that passing range and ability down to a tee. He brings a lot to our defensive line in being able to play the ball out and cut through teams. I think he deserves more plaudits. Everyone is standing up and taking note that Daley is one of the mainstays of this team and he is keeping us ticking.
“One of the main reasons the manager first put him there was he could play on the ball and he was a left footer. He has got a lot more to his game than any of us really thought. In one on one duals for instance, as you saw against Everton, Lukaku didn’t get any change from him. Daley is not the biggest or strongest but he is very clever and smart and big strikers or fast strikers don’t get any change from him. When someone like Lukaku gets you in the position where he’s holding you off it is key to try and nick it in front of him. He can pin you in the box but he didn’t get anything out of Daley.”
Everton’s Leighton Baines offered a candid interpretation of Sunday’s defeat, in which the side’s work-rate dipped after a promising opening.
“You are only really secure as individuals when you are winning games but even then we will make changes from time to time with what is required tactically,” he told the Liverpool Echo. “Results have an impact on that because chemistry and confidence go hand in hand, if you start winning games. Look at the teams who are having success this year and you’d say they have chemistry. If I had to say one thing, I just don’t know if it’s there with us at the moment, for whatever reason.”