Not the usual Carrington graduate, Blackett relies on tenacity for his place

A week after a heated game at Anfield between Manchester United and Liverpool in the league in 2011, in which a foul from Jamie Carragher on Nani left the winger's bone exposed, the two clubs' youngsters met in the Youth Cup.

Four players were sent off in United's victory, including a 16-year-old Tyler Blackett, who left the opposition's captain, Conor Coady, with a bloody nose.

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Having been born in Manchester, brought up as a United fan, and played at the club since he was 7, it's no shock that a game against United's most hated rivals brought out the fighter in him.

Three years later, Blackett has been the surprise inclusion in every one of Louis van Gaal's Premier League games this season, playing 90 minutes in all of them.

While always seen as one of the players who had potential to get in to the first-team squad, unlike some of his teammates at youth level who were sold or released before reaching that level, he was never the most gifted in his team.

Now, though, aged just 20, Blackett is growing into his Manchester United shirt, looking more composed and capable with every passing game. Van Gaal clearly has taken a shine to the defender, who has spent most of his career playing at left-back, and used him on the left of a defensive three.

In the opening game against Swansea, Blackett completed more passes than anyone on the pitch, with an accuracy of 93 percent. He showed his naivety at times and was guilty of giving the ball back too quickly for a Swansea free kick in the lead-up to one of their goals, but this was an error he appears determined to rectify.

As is typical for the youngsters who come through the ranks at United, he is keen to learn and is eager to improve. Indeed, these were qualities that Birmingham manager Lee Clark noted during Blackett's loan spell with the club earlier this year.

"He is a tremendous boy," he said. "He is brilliant on the training pitch, he is always asking myself and the coaches to stay behind and do some individual work on his defending and different types of stuff. You want lads like him to succeed because you know they are working really hard at their game to try and get better."

United legend-turned-TV pundit Gary Neville said he saw Blackett at Carrington the week after the Swansea game with a laptop on his knees analysing his performance.

"I think Tyler was playing his best match of the whole preparation. But in his inexperience he gave the ball back too quickly," said Van Gaal in the aftermath of that game. "That's not good, but he shall not make that error again."

Against Burnley, only one player completed more passes than him and, in the final third of the pitch, he found a teammate more often than did Wayne Rooney, Angel Di Maria and Robin van Persie.

His best performance of the season was last weekend against QPR -- although given how much better United played as a whole, this is not rocket science -- with him looking entirely comfortable in the centre of the back four. When called upon, which admittedly was fairly rarely, he didn't put a foot wrong, and looked as though he had been in the team for years. He attempted 97 passes and completed 95 of them, with only two players on the pitch passing the ball more than him.

Blackett likes to pick a pass, just as Rio Ferdinand did before him, but is more successful than his predecessor on the evidence of the opening few games.

He's also got quite a shot on him too, as those at the FA Youth Cup semifinal two years ago will remember, after his thunderous effort against Chelsea almost snapped the crossbar. Blackett is some way down in the pecking order for free kick duty but none of the players ahead of him can hit the ball with the force he does.

Jonny Evans, another graduate from United's academy, has been singing the praises of his young teammate.

"I've been very impressed," he said recently. "He's a very strong and powerful lad, and it's surprised me how good his passing has been. He's done really well. There are always academy products here, it's like a conveyor belt, and the manager isn't afraid to throw them in."

Following the sale of Danny Welbeck to Arsenal, people were quick to claim that United had forgotten about their identity and were abandoning their tradition of integrating youth. It's nonsense, though. Welbeck wasn't the first former youth team player to be sold, and he won't be the last.

Van Gaal implied that Welbeck didn't do enough with the chances he's had in the team over the years to show that he's up to the standard. Blackett won't want to be following in his footsteps; it's so far so good for the youngster.