Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal revealed three-quarters of his Premier League opening-day backline for the visit of Tottenham, following his side’s 2-0 friendly loss to Paris Saint-Germain, but two of the Red Devils’ centre-half stalwarts face an anxious wait to find out if they’ll be involved from the off.
Full-backs Matteo Darmian and Luke Shaw are definitely in, along with Jack-of-all-trades Daley Blind, who Van Gaal will play at left centre-half due to Marcos Rojo’s continued absence following the Copa America.
The Iron Tulip will therefore pick from Phil Jones and Chris Smalling next to the Dutchman, and having taken into account the balance of the side for the Spurs fixture, it’s the former who should get the nod over his fellow England international.
The Old Trafford gaffer said himself that part of Blind’s role will be to ‘build up the game’ from the back, but the 25-year-old was something of a defensive liability when filling in for Michael Carrick in deep midfield during his first term at Old Trafford, his role in the 3-0 loss at Everton being a case in point.
With metronomic passer Carrick likely to play just ahead of the defence in the anchor role, United need a dogged operator alongside Blind, a John Terry-type if you will, to make last-ditch tackles when things go awry and throw his body in the way of danger.
Anybody who has seen Jones and Smalling play will know that the former has the aforementioned attributes in abundance, while the latter relies more on his pace and ability to pick a pass.
The stats bear this out; Jones made 2.4 tackles, 3.2 interceptions and 7.5 clearances per Premier League game on average last term, while Smalling managed 1.4, 2.3 and 6.2 respectively (stats courtesy of WhoScored.com).
Jones was behind on pass completion rate (85.3 per cent to Smalling’s 88.6), but with Carrick and Blind in close proximity, the former Blackburn man’s skill set trumps his club and country teammate.
Van Gaal may think differently as he clearly rates Smalling highly, having handed the 25-year-old the captain’s armband for the visit of Arsenal at the end of last term, ignoring the likes of Blind and Jones, who both made the XI that day.
That being said, the 23-year-old Preston native did start 22 Premier League games to the Londoner’s 21 last season, so Jones clearly has a fighting chance of making the XI against the Lilywhites.