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United’s Forgotten Defenders: The Decline of Darmian and Blind and why Mourinho Might be Keeping Them

 

Manchester United’s squad is full of talented and quality international players, all competing to make the starting lineup. But Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind seem to have fallen out of favour with the manager recently and have seemingly been forgotten by the footballing world.

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Matteo Damian and Daley Blind have fallen out of favour at United recently.

 

The Decline of the Defensive Duo

Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind were signed by former manager Louis Van Gaal and both enjoyed favour under the Dutch manager. Blind, who was signed in 2014, made 24 league appearances and even claimed 2 goals in his first season. His popularity under Van Gaal continued into his second season with the reds, where he made a further 35 league appearances and helped United to win their first silverware in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era. Italian full-back Matteo Darmian enjoyed similar favour and popularity under Van Gaal, making 25 appearances after signing in 2015. Both Darmian and Blind were clearly valuable players in Van Gaal’s eyes, making a combined 60 appearances in his final season with United. Both defenders also featured in the FA Cup final, with Blind playing the full game and Darmian coming on a substitute. This good fortune and popularity would not last for the defensive pair though.

 

In Mourinho’s first season neither Darmian nor Blind dramatically fell out of favour. Both still made a respectable number of appearances across all competitions and played the whole game in the 2017 Europa League Final, but things have been very different this season.

 

Matteo Darmian has only made 4 league appearances so far this season, compared to almost 30 in his first season. Blind has similarly fallen out of favour, making only 5 league appearances so far. The last time Darmian made an appearance for the reds was in late January against Yeoville in the FA Cup. Blind has similarly only really clocked up minutes in cup competitions, with his last United appearance being in early January in United’s victory against Derby. The defensive pair are undoubtedly struggling at United now, yet Mourinho has held onto both of them through the January transfer window.

 

The revival of Luke Shaw’s career may have contributed to the decline of the pair, Blind especially, as he often occupied the left back position. However Ashley Young has even enjoyed playing in this position, highlighting how Blind truly has fallen out of favour and faces substantial competition to get in the team.

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The revival of Luke Shaw’s career may have contributed to Blind’s decline in popularity. However he also faces competition from the likes of Ashley Young.

 

Blind and Darmian have shown that they can slot in practically anywhere in defense when the opportunity arises. This may have been one of Mourinho’s main reasons for keeping the defensive duo at Old Trafford. Given the injury struggles the team has endured over the past few seasons, Mourinho may recognise the worth that having two flexible defensive players adds to the team. As United battle on in three competitions having two versatile players, who can slot into the squad. Injuries, squad rotation and fatigue will mean that having players like Blind and Darmian can take some of the pressure off the regulars and clock up some valuable minutes on the pitch.

 

Additionally it is entirely possible that Mourinho could already be thinking about next season. With the retirement of club captain and fan favourite Michael Carrick looming, Mourinho may be eyeing Blind (who is in fact actually a defensive midfielder) up as a possible successor or at least a possible reserve defensive midfielder.

 

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The defenders were reportedly being pursued be multiple teams, with Roma and Juventus amongst the rumoured suitors. However Mourinho has kept a firm hand on the defensive pair. Whether they last in Mourinho’s United team or do eventually get sold in the summer, for now, as the fixture list grows busier and busier keeping players like Darmian and Blind could prove to be the difference between being able to keep the team afloat and performing at the best possible level, as the reds move forwards in the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.

Could Daley Blind be the key to United’s success?

Following the defeat at the weekend to Manchester City, it looks quite obvious that, against the stronger teams, United need to mix things up in the middle of the park.

City’s pinpoint rapid passing game completely bypassed Paul Pogba and Marouane Fellaini in the first half, leaving acres of space in front of the Red’s back four. De Bruyne and Silva roamed freely between the midfield lines while the United midfield duo chased shadows.

After the second half introduction of Ander Herrera, United seemed to tighten things up, however, when you’re a goal behind with a half of football to play against a Guardiola team, it’s always going to be difficult.

This begs the question then, what can be done to restrict the oppositions space and movement in the midfield? The answer could well be already amongst the United ranks.

Since Daley Blind’s move into the centre back role, he has surprised many and answered a host of critics. His calm and assured nature has brought a coolness to the back four on many occasions.

Those questioning his physical attributes and susceptibility to be bullied by bigger centre forwards, need only watch the home game against Everton last season. I’m pretty sure he still has Lukaku in his pocket somewhere…

So with his composed disposition, more than capable physical presence and his excellent range of passing could Daley Blind be the man shield the defence?

When we look at his stats for last season compared with the title winning captain, Wes Morgan, and Spurs’ constantly improving centre back, Toby Alderweireld, things don’t look too bad.

Tottenham’s man made 15 more interceptions than Blind last season, however, the United man completed 14 more than Wes Morgan.

And when we look at the tackling and passing stats, things get even better for the Netherlands international. With 67 tackles won compared with 32 from Alderweireld and only 34 from Morgan.

Daley Blind’s eye for a tackle is clear to see. His pass completion rate also outstrips the competition as well as the number of successful passes made.

His partnership with Chris Smalling flourished last season and with United atop the tree for least goals conceded last term, and his understanding with new signing, Eric Bailly, looking productive, he’s turning into quite the defensive Mr Reliable United need.

However, with Smalling’s exclusion from the team so far this season, and following the England man’s excellent form last year, it begs the question; when will we see Smalling back in the starting 11?

Could a possible partnership of Bailly and Smalling in the centre of the defence free up Daley Blind to protect the back 4?

His repertoire of skills coupled with his fantastic reading of the game, could allow the likes of Pogba, Fellaini and Herrera, when he plays, the opportunity to get further up the pitch and link up with the attack.

Pogba was largely ineffective against the Blues at the weekend until Herrera was brought on which allowed him to operate in his favoured and best position, where he was so influential for Juventus.

Obviously the season is still in its early stages and Jose Mourinho may still be trying to find his best formation and starting 11.

However, the option to play Daley Blind at the base of a 3-man midfield could be the catalyst for something special…

Let us know what you think in the comments below.