EPL talking points: Blind assured in Man United defence, expect goals when Chelsea face Arsenal

Thomas Woods offers his thoughts on the big talking points from the Premier League's latest matches.

Despite some initial teething issues, Daley Blind has looked comfortable in the heart of the Manchester United defence. Oli Scarff / AFP
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The National’s deputy sports editor Thomas Woods offers his thoughts on the big talking points from the Premier League’s latest matches.

Blind looks at home in a back four

There were plenty of raised eyebrows when Louis van Gaal said Daley Blind would go into this season as Manchester United’s first-choice, left-sided centre-back.

A summer spent courting Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos and expectations that at least one senior centre-back would be signed ended with a left-back-cum-midfielder wedged into Van Gaal’s back four.

However, Blind looks made for the role five games into the season, despite a couple of teething issues.

It is clear Blind is an adaptable player — he played at left-back and defensive midfielder for Ajax, was on the left of a three-man defence for the Netherlands at the 2014 World Cup and even played a season at right-back on loan at Groningen.

At 25, it is unclear what his best position is, and he continues a trend of midfielders converting to centre-back. Javier Mascherano is perhaps the best example, at Barcelona, while Javi Martinez and Xavi Alonso have both dropped back for Bayern Munich.

The main concerns about Blind centre around his height and pace, but he makes up for that in his reading of the game, distribution and tackling.

It’s a Catch-22 situation for Van Gaal; he is losing aerial dominance but gaining composure. There are not many centre-backs around who have every attribute you would want at that position — Rio Ferdinand came close.

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Gary Neville was used at centre-back many times by Alex Ferguson, who always said that if Neville was a couple of inches taller, he would be the best central defender in England.

What Van Gaal has done is match Blind with a partner who is strong, dominant in the air and fairly fast in Chris Smalling.

Three clean sheets in five games suggests the move is working, for the most part.

Bafetimbi Gomis was the source of Blind’s worst performance this season, in the 2-1 defeat at Swansea City. It is worth noting, though, that for three-quarters of that game, the Dutchman was barely troubled.

While obviously not Van Gaal’s Plan A at the start of the season, moving Blind may be one of the best decisions of the Dutchman’s Old Trafford reign.

This is, after all, the manager who took a so-so winger in Bastian Schweinsteiger and converted him into one of the best midfielders in the world.

Expect goals in Chelsea v Arsenal

Saturday’s early kick-off, Chelsea at home to Arsenal, is the most important game of the season so far.

The main focus will be on Chelsea and Jose Mourinho. They have the squad and manager to recover from three defeats in their opening five games but cannot afford to slip further behind leaders Manchester City if they hope to retain their title. There is already an 11-point gap.

Last season, City lost seven games and still finished second, but 80 is the lowest title-winning points total in the past 10 seasons. To reach that level from their current position, Chelsea would need the equivalent points total of 25 wins from their remaining 33 games.

It is doable, especially if a victory over Arsenal kicks off a winning run, and it will be interesting to see how Mourinho sets out his team. The onus is on Chelsea to attack and attempt to take control of proceedings, but Arsenal are a strong team on the counter-attack. All-out attack is not Mourinho’s style.

On the other side of the pitch, with City expected to take three points at home to West Ham United, Arsenal risk falling six points or more behind the leaders unless they also win.

It could lead to an unusually open London derby, as a draw does neither team any favours.

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