EPL: Blind blow may break United's season

EPL: Blind blow may break United's season
Netherlands' defender Daley Blind controlling the ball during a Group B football match between Spain and the Netherlands at the Fonte Nova Arena in Salvador during the 2014 FIFA World Cup on June 13, 2014. The 24-year-old says it is "a real honour" for him to sign on with Manchester United.

Lady Luck hasn't turned her back on Manchester United. She's fled the city, left the country and was last seen on a flight to the Bermuda Triangle.

Louis van Gaal's turbulent season has been woeful. Daley Blind's injury could make it wretched.

When the Dutch midfielder hobbled off during Holland's 6-0 win over Latvia, he possibly took United's campaign with him.

He will recover from the medial ligament damage eventually. His club may not.

However long his absence, Blind feels like the straw that broke van Gaal's inaugural season at Old Trafford.

In the short term, David de Gea's loss hits hardest. But his dislocated finger rules him out for a week at the most and he could yet be a surprise selection to face Arsenal at the weekend.

Blind and de Gea are jostling for space in a treatment room that already includes Michael Carrick, Marcos Rojo, Radamel Falcao, Phil Jones, Rafael da Silva, Jonny Evans, Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard.

But the Dutchman's injury hits van Gaal's blind spot.

The manager's dependable enforcer in the World Cup in Brazil was also the industrious lynchpin of his evolving United side.

There has always been someone employed to sweep the front step while the interior designers went to work in the houses that van Gaal built.

Injuries had already forced the United coach to drop his Dutch utility man alongside Patrick McNair against Crystal Palace - the side's 11th central defensive pairing in 12 games.

The formation tweak contributed to perhaps the most sterile Old Trafford performance so far, with the home side bereft of pace and penetration - the traditional hallmarks of past United sides.

Van Gaal abandoned both his diamond and Carrick, setting the midfielder adrift in an unsuitable, lonely role between the lines.

The Englishman may flick passes with that reliable instep, but he lacks the gumption to snap at an opponent's ankles.

That's Blind's role. Van Gaal's favoured diamond formation founders without him.

With the trip to Arsenal looming, the timing of Blind's injury is appalling. A United defeat would potentially see van Gaal's side tumble into the bottom half of the table, an inconceivable scenario when he took the job.

Any light at the end of the tunnel is flickering wildly.

A side in transition can be accommodated. A side without a spine is tantamount to a crisis. The loss of de Gea and a pair of reliable centre backs and Blind and Falcao all eat away at United's core like brittle bone disease.

COLLAPSE

An unthinkable collapse is a possibility when handicaps exist from front to back.

An incisive squad surgeon, van Gaal's scalpel has been decidedly unsteady at Old Trafford. He's now tasked with stitching gaping holes all over his sick patient. The Red Devils are haemorrhaging talent.

His obvious solution would be to recall Ander Herrera, who sparkled briefly but fizzled quickly. The Spaniard must seize the opportunity to impress his sceptical boss if called in from the cold.

A more gifted footballer than Blind perhaps, Herrera is also an impish performer, entertaining, unpredictable and not entirely reliable. His goals and assists impress (he was second only to Cesc Fabregas in the number of through-balls he slipped through La Liga midfields last season).

But his work rate is rather more wonky.

Marouane Fellaini's encouraging steps on the road to the redemption could lead to him joining Herrera in the centre-circle. It's a position the Belgian favours; the one he was signed to fill in the first place.

But there are too many ifs, buts and maybes in too many key positions in the United squad.

They head to the Emirates Stadium unsure of their goalkeeper, their centre backs, their central midfielders and at least one of their strikers.

United are a Sunday-morning pub side masquerading as the world's biggest football club. Van Gaal is surely only one more injury away from slicing up the half-time oranges himself and asking his wife to wash the jerseys.

And how he labours breathlessly with a hole in the heart of his beloved diamond. His only positive comes from the Premier League's mathematicians. After Arsenal, United's fixtures are relatively benign until Liverpool visit in mid-December. Blind may be back by then.

What the midfielder will return to remains to be seen.

The loss of a Dutchman called Daley leaves United about as relevant as yesterday's newspapers.


This article was first published on November 19, 2014.
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