Could Lindelof's aerial weakness cost him his Manchester United place?
Background image: Ian Mcallister.
Even through the gloomy storms transpiring at Manchester United, Victor Lindelof has remained one rare positive in an unbalanced side. After questionably losing out on the Red Devils' Player of the Year award to Luke Shaw last season, the Swede found his footing at the Theatre of Dreams.
Or at least it appears that way. One cannot doubt Lindelof's work when it comes to dealing with the opposition pertaining to the “modern” way of the beautiful game. Indeed, when it comes to working the ball out of defence, making timely clearances around his penalty area and putting in clean tackles, there aren't many better (at least at United).
His transformation from being a sloppy, error-prone centre-back being protected by Jose Mourinho in his debut season in the highly-competitive Premier League has been admirable. In a United side devoid of leaders, the Swede’s spirited personality makes him a popular figure among team-mates and manager(s) too.
That being said, despite his heroic transformation in just over a year, there’s still an Achilles heel plaguing his game. As good he is dealing with danger in the ground, Lindelof suffers from the aerial threat, most notably against the more, shall we say, 'intimidating' sides.
Granted, the Premier League no longer follows the old English routine of hooping the ball into the box hoping for powerful headers Andy Carroll or Peter Crouch would’ve thrived from. Even the “smaller” sides now implement modern-day tactics into building up attractive, free-flowing moves thanks to the growing technicality within the game.
But knowing how vulnerable the Swede looks whenever a dangerous long-ball is swung into the area, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out how to hurt United does it? At 6’2’, he isn’t the shortest centre-back either. Compared with the 6’4’ Harry Maguire, who tends to win whatever aerial battle, Lindelof tends to struggle.
When you look at the England International’s 4.4 aerials won per game as compared to Lindelof's 3.1, it’s understandable why the Old Trafford club broke the bank for Maguire's services. Axel Tuanzebe has barely featured this season, yet even he won a mammoth 9 aerial battles in their UEFA Europa League opener against an Astana side using the old-school tactics of looping long-balls hoping for the best...
In hindsight, the 25-year-old’s aerial prowess isn't necessarily awful, it's just Maguire’s 'Slabhead' towers over him. Though you cannot deny the fact that Lindelof's mistakes have come to the fore when defending the lofted cross.
Be it being outjumped by a 5’10’ Jeffrey Schlupp resulting in a sloppy goal conceded against Crystal Palace, or overpowered by a marauding Jannik Vestergaard in the frustrating follow-up draw against Southampton, a worrying pattern is being formed.
While Maguire tries his best to deal with the long-balls as much as possible, even he’s no superman who's able to save his team-mates blushes all the time. Nicknamed as “The Iceman” for his cool demeanour, perhaps it’s time for the Swede to tap into his aggressive side when dealing with bullish opponents.
Perhaps bulking up in the muscular department would help to nullify the threat of stronger individuals. Timing his jumps better is another aspect to be worked upon in training. If he wants to recreate the Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic combo with his English counter-part anytime soon, Lindelof needs to get on the same wavelength sooner rather than later.
While it’s arguable that he’s as good as most when dealing with the ball on the deck, there’s still a visible gap in the aerial department; a crucial trait for any promising defender. But if he continues making errors dealing with crosses, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer or any future manager won’t hesitate to look for alternatives.
Tuanzebe, for one, has already established himself a complete package. Four years younger than the Swede, it’s certain he’ll get even better as he edges closer to his prime years. Unless he starts working on improving his ability for defending long-balls, Lindelof could soon find himself sliding down the United pecking order into becoming a rotational figure or worse...