Victor Lindelof’s stark turn in form seems to have gone under the radar. After less than stellar beginnings, the Swede’s recent performances have repaid the faith shown in him by new boss Jose Mourinho. After an impressive trio of displays from the 23 year old, can United supporters expect more of the same?
Lindelof’s return to the United starting 11 versus Newcastle, was met with exasperation. His last appearance in the Premier League saw a catalogue of errors result in the Red Devils first loss of the season. Though the match didn’t begin as he may have wanted, there were signs of improvement as the game played out.
With United 8 points behind Manchester City, the next three games were crucial. Lindelof kept his place for the visit of Brighton and Hove Albion – the game which saw the criticism surrounding United’s new signing, begin to fade.
The Under 21 European champion revealed a somewhat unanticipated form of aggression, as well as displaying his habitual ball playing capabilities. Murray was given no time on the ball, consistently finding himself under pressure from the Swedish international. The 34 year old finished the game having completed the most unsuccessful touches (5) as well as being dispossessed twice. With Lindelof more known for his ability to break the lines of the opposition whilst in possession, his sudden combativeness surprised the Old Trafford faithful.Embed from Getty Images
After his demonstration of tactical intelligence versus Brighton, United manager Jose Mourinho assigned the Swede an important task for their midweek trip to Vicarage Road – stop Richarlison. Despite the change in system, he seemed to thrive in a man marking role. Again, the pressure applied by Lindelof, forced Richarlison to commit a massive 7 unsuccessful touches. Like a father beaming with pride, Jose had some kind words for the defender following the 4-2 victory:
“I think Richarlison is a very good player and a difficult player to play against, but Victor is very fast.”
“He has adapted to play centrally but also to go to the sides, because he’s got the agility that many central defenders don’t have.”
“I think it was another very positive performance by Victor.”
This led United into their final and most difficult game of the three, away at Arsenal. During the first half, Lindelof was again tasked with a man marking role, this time on Arsenal’s number 7, Alexis Sanchez. The 28 year old lost the ball 4 times in the first 45 minutes, with only Alexandre Lacazette conceding possession more.Embed from Getty Images
The second half saw a change in tact from the Arsenal man, drifting from the left into central areas and even over to the right to lose his marker. This is a testament to the pressure applied by the United defender, not only coercing an elite player to sacrifice possession, but forcing the player to flee from his position in search of space.
During Lindelof’s early outings for his new club, many of the qualities associated with the defensive side of the game seemed absent. Whilst some (inc. Mourinho) were allowing for a period of adaptation, many believed these were traits that wouldn’t be improved upon. When comparing with his team mates, it would have been hard to disagree with the latter.
However, the bedding-in period provided by Jose, has allowed the defender to ameliorate some of the issues that plagued his early form. The confidence established through his performances have allowed him to refine the weaker aspects of his game, whilst also retaining his unique skill set whilst in possession. The sharp contrast in numerical output, before and after the home fixture with Brighton, illustrates exactly why Mourinho placed his faith in the three time Primeria Liga champion.
A long way to go
Despite gaining a consistent run in the starting eleven, Jose will be looking for Lindelof to avoid any complacency. In a recent interview, when the Swede was asked how he felt about a potential start in the upcoming derby versus Manchester City, his feet remained firmly on the ground.Embed from Getty Images
“Well I’m very excited of course, if I get the chance to play but right now, I am just happy for the win [vs. CSKA Moscow] and that we finished first in the group”
In the current state of affairs, Lindelof stands a great chance at achieving his full potential at Manchester United. Not only is he at an elite club with exceptional coaching staff and facilities, he also has a manager that prides himself on the development of his defenders. Extensive work on the training ground, as well as consistent game time, will provide a foundation for the young centre half to augment his play style and become the elite defender his potential suggests.