Look at the great centre-back partnerships for Manchester United over the years, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, Jaap Stam and Ronny Johnsen, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister, they were all partnerships where both players were good in the air, comfortable at heading away crosses into the box.
When you play against West Ham United, that is what you need to be able to do. Yes, West Ham play some fantastic football, but when they get into good areas to cross they have excellent delivery, whether from Dimitri Payet or Aaron Cresswell. And Manchester United are a team who are always going to concede a lot of crosses, especially when they play Juan Mata out on the right, as they did last night. Their full-backs were never given enough protection. Before the game I thought that United’s ability to defend the wide areas would decide the game, and so it was.
West Ham targeted Daley Blind last night, knowing that they could exploit his lack of height. So it proved, as they scored three goals from crosses, although the first was a cut-back. Smalling challenged well in the air, but at 5 foot 11, Blind cannot do the same. Winston Reid got ahead of him far too easily for West Ham’s later winner.
When I watch Blind, I think he is very good on the ball, very clever and very good at reading situations. But I think he is better suited to play as a sweeper in a back three. Because when teams target him, he is in trouble. It has nothing to do with his ability, and everything to do with his size. All the ability that he has is not going to give him an extra foot in height.
That is why I think United need a specialist centre-back to partner Chris Smalling next season. All the top teams have two specialist centre-backs playing together: look at Wes Morgan and Robert Huth or Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld. All four of those are imposing tall centre-backs, comfortable at heading away crosses. Blind, unfortunately, is not, and on Tuesday night it cost United again.
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