Having starred at the World Cup for Netherlands playing as a left wing-back in Louis van Gaal's 3-5-2 formation, Daley Blind was initially utilised as an out-and-out left-back as Guus Hiddink made his (second) bow in charge of Oranje, reverting to a more traditional 4-3-3.
Goal assesses the 24-year-old's performance against Italy in Bari and what the future might hold...
|PERFORMANCE AGAINST ITALY|
Blind, and Netherlands, were put on the back foot early on against Italy after centre-back Bruno Martins Indi was sent off for pushing over Simone Zaza inside the box, with Daniele De Rossi duly converting from the spot to make it 2-0 after just nine minutes.
The visitors largely responded well, however, taking control of possession for large spells despite their numerical disadvantage, though were routinely exposed at the back and failed to truly worry Salvatore Sirigu.
In many ways Blind typified Oranje's performance; he remained calm and considered on the ball, always making himself available to his team-mates, but looked a little ragged defensively. At least while he was fielded at left-back, he played too high up the pitch which left his nearest centre-back isolated and the space in behind exposed.
Of Dutch players, though, only Stefan de Vrij (81) played more passes than Blind (78) who tried to get forward and assist the attackers. Midway through the second half, Nigel de Jong was withdrawn, with Blind then shifted into central midfield – a role which he is likely to be asked to fulfil at Old Trafford.
Worryingly, his influence diluted when he moved into the middle of the park – though that was in part due to Italy's formation, with three central midfielders outnumbering the Dutch's two. Unable to get on the ball and dictate proceedings or even win back possession, the match largely passed Blind by in the closing stages.
The biggest positive from Blind's performance will be that the telepathy established with new Manchester United team-mate Robin van Persie at the World Cup remains intact – even if the pair were unable to link up as often, or as spectacularly, as they did in Brazil.
It was a cushioned header from last season's Eredivisie Player of the Year that produced Netherlands' best chance of largely miserable night, with Blind showing enormous adventure to raid forward from full-back before cleverly directing the ball into the path of Van Persie, who blazed over when really he should have scored.
The pinpoint, raking long balls that rocketed him into the limelight against Spain were also evident, with Blind attempting the fourth-most long balls (10) of any outfield player to take to the pitch in Bari and very nearly connected with Van Persie with the type of pass that embarrassed Sergio Ramos & Co. just a couple of months ago.
A major concern surrounding Blind is whether or not he has the pace necessary to play in the Premier League and that worry was highlighted once again during the Dutchman's individual battle with Italian wing-back Matteo Darmian.
On several occasions the Torino defender left his opposite number eating dust, accelerating forward at will and spraying in dangerous crosses – in fact, no player attempted more crosses than Darmian, despite being withdrawn after 73 minutes.
The Premier League is laced with speedy, tricky wingers and that is a profile Blind could struggle against, with Darmian made to look far faster than he is due to the Dutchman's heavy feet and lack of pace. Fortunately for United, though, Van Gaal appears to have bought his countryman to Old Trafford to play in central midfield where speed is not quite so essential.
|WHAT DOES THE FUTURE HOLD?|
Blind's versatility, as is so often the case, is as much a curse as it is a blessing. He spent the World Cup playing as a wing-back, started as a full-back in a traditional back four against Italy, before finally moving into central midfield. That was largely the case at Ajax last season, too, where he played a variety of different roles. As such, it is hard to know exactly where his best position is.
Against Italy he showed frailties playing as a full-back, especially when not afforded the freedom to bomb forward that he was granted at the World Cup – where he could pen back his opposite number and his defensive awareness was tested more sporadically. Up against Darmian, he just looked too slow to be a reliable option to use at full-back in the Premier League.
When in possession of the ball, however, he was composed and serene, despite Netherlands being reduced to 10 men, and was one of few players for the visitors willing and able to penetrate the Azzurri back line.
He certainly looks better equipped to play in midfield – with his ball retention, work-rate and general sense of calm much needed at United – though it will be a concern that he faded so dramatically after replacing De Jong. The AC Milan man retained a measure of control despite the relative disorder around him, whereas Blind drifted out of the game. He will need to be able to impose himself more dramatically if he is to dominant games in midfield in English football.