Manchester United have been urged to sign a new centre-back partner for Chris Smalling after Daley Blind was found wanting in the defeat to West Ham United at Upton Park. The Hammers staged a late comeback with headers from Michail Antonio and Winston Reid that exposed the Dutch international's ability in the air, a result that all-but ends the club's pursuit of a Champions League place.
Blind has operated at the centre of United's back four for much of the campaign with little success as the club have fallen away in pursuit of the top four, with the FA Cup representing their only potential avenue of achievement this season. The versatile 26-year-old was noticeably targeted by West Ham – playing their final game at the Boleyn Ground – and that tactic eventually proved successful in the closing minutes.
And Danny Higginbotham, a former United defender, says the club should stop persisting with the makeshift Blind and recruit a player better suited for the role alongside Smalling – who has been one of the Old Trafford club's stand out players this season. The ex-Gibraltar international says United should look to sure up the position and build a solid defensive partnership in the mould of Leicester City or Tottenham Hotspur.
"Last night at Upton Park revealed how Daley Blind can only ever be a stop-gap solution for Manchester United," he told The Independent. "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 5ft 11in, 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."