Blind vs Smalling: Who Should Be Mourinho’s First Choice Against Leicester?

Ibra vs watford

Manchester United’s recent dip in form was partially overturned with a straightforward victory at League One side Northampton Town in the EFL Cup. The visit of champions Leicester City at Old Trafford today will provide a far meaner test to Jose Mourinho’s side though as they seek to halt a run of two consecutive defeats in the Premier League. Claudio Ranieri’s side picked up a vital point at this arena last season, one that ultimately won them the title, keeping external circumstances in mind. There will be a different backdrop to this encounter though as they travel to Manchester with expectation rather than hope.

From Mourinho and United’s perspective, though, this is a crucial contest, given the renewed dynamic of the title race and their own personal ordeals since the completion of the first international break. Their lunchtime kick-off against the Foxes is the first of three successive matches at Old Trafford, with Zorya Luhansk making the long trip from Ukraine in the Europa League this Thursday and a battered and bruised Stoke City side following suit just three days later. The United faithful will view this as an important period for their side as they aim to get their season back on track. Moreover, victories in the upcoming home fixtures will prove paramount given their daunting schedule immediately after the second break for World Cup qualifiers. Liverpool, Fenerbahce, Chelsea and Manchester City will make up ten very difficult days for Mourinho and it is imperative he gets his squad firing on all cylinders well and truly before that.

With Wayne Rooney set to start Saturday’s clash on the bench, the manager has a plethora of options to choose from in attack. Having said that, he also has a tough decision to make in defence. Assuming Eric Bailly is in the mix for United today, Mourinho’s options at centre-half are limited to Daley Blind and Chris Smalling. The duo featured prominently for Louis van Gaal in his second and final year at the club and were praised for their ability to complement each other. Smalling’s game was characterized by frequent runs into his opponents’ half and his aerial prowess while Blind impressed fans and pundits alike with his exceptional ability to read dangerous situations unfolding in front of him and making timely interceptions and blocks. Both defenders play very different styles of football but may not begin together at the heart of United’s backline, given Bailly’s good run of form.

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Statistically, Blind has raked up far more interceptions, tackles and blocks as compared to his English colleague. That holds true primarily because Smalling did not start for United in the league until last Sunday in his side’s dismal 3-1 defeat to Watford while Blind played every minute of the four league matches prior to that. At this early stage, it is hard to consider defensive statistics as the ultimate barometer for selection. Yet a decision has to be made and a lot comes down to the side they face.

Jamie Vardy has two goals to his name in the new season although he has looked off the pace at certain stages. His presence upfront will be a telling factor for the visitors while new recruit Islam Slimani will be hoping to build on his strong start to the campaign, following a brace on his full debut for Leicester against Burnley last week. Given the two strikers have pace and power, one might feel Blind will be outmanoeuvred should he start against them and the two boxes he fails to tick are met duly by Smalling. The presence of Wes Morgan and Robert Huth during set-pieces will be another tricky situation and it goes without saying that they can only be nullified by centre-halves of their height.

The partnership of Smalling and Bailly did not get off to the best of starts last week at Vicarage Road but there is genuine concern about Blind featuring against Leicester’s threats. The latter may work against the Dutchman and may instigate Mourinho to opt for the former Fulham man alongside Bailly. In the aforementioned circumstances, it appears to be the logical choice.