There are not many positions on the pitch where Jose Mourinho has to spend a lot of time weighing up his options when selecting a team to take to the pitch every week.
It is clear that on a good day, the Portuguese coach will pick the likes of Zlatan, Mkhitaryan, Mata, Pogba, Herrera, Carrick, Jones, Rojo, Valencia and De Gea. The one position currently up for grabs at Old Trafford is left-back.
Matteo Darmian has been preferred by Mourinho on a number of occasions this season but it is obvious to the majority that the right-footed Darmian is uncomfortable out on the left and it is widely expected that the Italian will not feature in Mourinho’s long-term plans for the club, with a reported return to Italy on the cards.
Shaw is the outstanding candidate at left-back as he not only possesses the pace and ability to fit into Mourinho’s tactical style, where he encourages his full-backs to push forward as much as possible, but he is also one of the brightest English talents in the game today.
Having physically recovered from a horrendous injury, Shaw is being managed carefully by United’s medical team as the mental effects of an injury as serious as Shaw suffered back in 2015 will live long in the memory. Shaw’s time to shine under Mourinho, however, will soon come.
For the time being, Daley Blind has been utilised at left-back and has, as he so often does, performed consistently well. But it is not his best position and it should not be his position at United long-term.
Having grown up in the world of totaalvoetbal and having a father, Danny Blind, who played in an Ajax side that was managed by Johan Cruyff, it is not surprising that Daley is such an intelligent and versatile player.
His ability to read the game so well enabled him to move to the heart of United’s defence for the 2015-16 season where he gave some assured performances for his club alongside Chris Smalling.
Many criticised Blind’s lack of physical presence and height when former manager, Louis van Gaal decided to move his trusted versatile countryman into the centre of the defensive line, but Blind largely proved his critics wrong and ended the season as an FA Cup winner.
There is no doubt that Blind is a very capable left-back and has been used in that position at his boyhood club Ajax as well as for his country, but he is often caught out in that position due to his lack of pace which means that it is likely that Mourinho doesn’t view him as the first-choice left-back in his system.
Instead, Mourinho should view Blind as the solution to the Carrick shaped hole that will be left when the 35-year-old finally decides to hang up his boots and, hopefully, moves into a coaching role with the club.
Carrick has, to borrow from Zlatan’s phrasebook, aged as a footballer like a fine red wine and he has become a crucial cog in the United machine over the years in the ‘regista’ role, but there will come a time when he will have to retire and that time is coming sooner rather than later.
Replacing Carrick has become an important, yet often overlooked, task with Carrick’s character and style of play hard to replicate, but United and Mourinho may have the solution to this particular problem currently playing at left-back.
Once Luke Shaw returns to full fitness, it is hoped that he can regain some form to cement his place as United’s undisputed left-back leaving Blind playing second fiddle to the young Englishman and struggling to find a regular place on the pitch.
The reported return of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson from his loan spell with Wolves, in which he only played in a disappointing six first-team games, means that Mourinho is in possession of two highly talented English left-backs who are pacey and willing to attack, just what the Portuguese manager likes.
Borthwick-Jackson impressed in the ten first-team appearances he made last season as well as winning the U21s Player of the Year award at the end of the season.
It was a shame to see the 19 year-old shipped out on loan at the beginning of the season, but his apparent recall, which could happen in January, may well be another opportunity for the youngster to push for a place in the first-team once more and to challenge Shaw and Blind for the left-back spot.
This could see Blind becoming third-choice left-back and fifth-choice centre-back, a position he is unlikely to be satisfied with.
A solution is at hand, however, if Mourinho believes that Blind has the skill and ability to take the reins from Carrick and become the unassuming, yet indispensable, holding-midfielder at Old Trafford.
The United No.17 began his footballing life as a youth player at Ajax as a holding-midfielder and, it is important to note, he also moved back into that same role in the Ajax first team from left-back in 2013-14 and won the Dutch Footballer of the Year award at the end of that season.
Blind is, in many ways, very similar to Carrick. He is calm, composed, organised, a strong passer of the ball and an excellent reader of the game, everything one needs to allow the creative and spontaneous attacking talents of Pogba, Herrera, Mkhitaryan, Mata, Martial and Rashford to play with confidence that their holding-midfielder will be behind them, waiting calmly to receive the ball or to recover from any mistakes.
Carrick became that player for United over time and Blind can become that player too.
Borthwick-Jackson’s possible return to Old Trafford could trigger a chain reaction that may lead to a solution being found for a holding-midfield conundrum that is being debated quietly for the time being, but will have to be confronted, at some point, head-on.
Whether Mourinho views the situation in this way remains to be seen. We will just have to wait and see what he decides, but the answer to who will be Michael Carrick’s replacement might already be at the club.