"He (Daley Blind) plays far too many square passes and takes the easy option," Gary Neville said of Manchester United's summer signing earlier this month. The former United right-back believes Blind needs to take more risks in midfield in order to provide better service for strikers Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and Falcao.
The Dutchman joined from Ajax earlier this year and has anchored the midfield effectively, breaking up play and gifting his more creative teammates a license to support the attack. Safe in the knowledge Blind is shielding the defence, the likes of Ángel Di María, Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera have impressed for United this season.
However, disaster struck for United on Sunday night as Blind limped off in the first half of Holland's 6-0 win over Latvia with a knee injury. Now sidelined for several weeks, United will have to make do without their unassuming midfielder for the foreseeable future, which has the potential to derail their quest for a top four finish.
It goes without saying that Louis van Gaal's start to life as United boss has not panned out as expected, but Blind has been a bright spark thus far. Of all United performers, Blind is their fifth highest rated player (7.20) in the Premier League this season. Often overlooked as a key member of the first team, the 24-year-old's primary responsibility is to win possession and play a simple pass to a teammate.
While this is a low risk approach, it is a necessity for a holding midfielder to perform such a duty in the position in question. This may not appeal to Neville, but Blind offers stability in the middle of the park. His assuredness will be sorely missed, of that there is no question.
United have won 50% of the 8 league games he has started this season and 0% of the 3 he did not, those being an opening day defeat to Swansea and turgid draws against both Sunderland and Burnley. In the latter stalemates, the United defence appeared nervous when pressured and it was only due to the profligacy of Sunderland and Burnley that neither team secured maximum points.
Making his debut in the 4-0 home win over QPR, Blind turned out a convincing performance (rating 7.76) and helped ensure none of the Hoops' starting front 6 earned more than a WhoScored rating of 6.62, that honour bestowed upon Sandro. The Holland international is not going to score a hatful of goals, West Brom aside, or provide the killer pass to register assists too often but he is a crucial member of Van Gaal's side.
Of all players currently at the club, only Antonio Valencia (3.7) is averaging more tackles per game than Blind (2.9), further emphasising his role as the ball winner in the team. Not the most physically imposing, Blind's reading of the game is one of his primary assets and is one that United will undoubtedly miss in his absence. While Neville was somewhat critical of the former Ajax star's risk-free approach to the game, a calming influence in midfield is exactly what United require after what has been a tumultuous 18 months at Old Trafford.
Of course, the ideal holding midfielder not only needs to regain possession, he also needs to retain the ball successfully and Blind, as expected, does this to a high standard. Of all players at the club, only Jonny Evans (72.3) is averaging more passes per league game than Blind (66.3), while using the same parameters, only Juan Mata (91.9%) has a better pass success than the Dutch midfielder (90.2%).
Granted, none are particularly threatening to the opposition defence (Blind is averaging 0.9 key passes per game), but this reluctance to be more daring on the ball limits the opportunity for the opposition to spring attacks as a result of any potential carelessness when in possession. Moreover, this allows his attacking teammates to flaunt the creative side of their game, with Di María in particular flourishing alongside the Dutchman.
His injury is going to be a huge blow for United. A potentially winnable meeting with Arsenal this weekend becomes that much tougher to navigate without Blind marshalling the midfield, while the former champions are expected to face Southampton and rivals Liverpool without the services of the 24-year-old.
While he perhaps does not receive the acclaim some feel he deserves, Blind is one of United's most important players at present and with the hectic festive period looming, the midfielder's absence is likely to seriously dent their chances of returning to Europe's elite competition.