Is Victor Lindelof finally finding his feet at Old Trafford?
Background image- André Zahn, CC BY-SA 2.0
In two-and-a-half seasons at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho never found his ideal centre-back pair. Known for his conservative approach, he bought Eric Bailly in his first season, Victor Lindelof the next. Fans were convinced the duo's disparate qualities would be complementary, creating the ideal partnership. But they were unpolished gems. Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Marco Rojo and Daley Blind were given opportunities, too. None stood out, injuries and/or disciplinary issues hindering each. Partnerships develop by playing together for long periods. No tandem lasted more than half a season in United's backfield. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, however, Lindelof suddenly looks like he underwent the ideal education.
When Lindelof arrived, he was not used to English football. Playing shabbily, he made mistakes. It was no easy transition. The £31 million fee began to look overpriced. Many in the media labelled him a flop. Then, while everyone was craning their neck to gain a view of Mourinho checking out of the Lowry Hotel, the ugly duckling transformed into a swan.
On a scale of 1-10, Lindelof's concentration is at a 'This is Spinal Tap' 11. Where there was confusion and miscalculation, there is now command and impeccable timing. Where there was chagrin, there is now elation. A double fist pump as he watched Kieran Trippier's late free-kick curl away from goal said it all. He has bought into the new regime. The managerial shift has elevated his confidence and mentality to Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand levels.
The 24-year-old is suddenly phenomenal at the back; positionally disciplined, tackling with confidence, reading the play, seeing the danger and comfortable carrying the ball into the midfield third. He is the best defender at the club. Not too long ago, that wasn't saying much. Now it is.
United have conceded six times in eight league games under Solskjaer. That's 0.95 goals per game less than in Mourinho's 17 games.
George Bernard Shaw believed you couldn't make people learn, that it was an active process. Ole does too. Under the Norwegian, the Swede has started every Premier League game. He is valued. Mourinho only valued him when he played injured with all the substitutions made. He didn't trust him in important matches. Maybe he should have.
Like Ander Herrera, his lean frame disguises his strength. He handles physical opponents with unexpected ease. Newcastle's muscular forward, Solomon Rondon can attest. He never won a duel with the United defender.
Lindelof is not pacy but the way he positions himself and checks his shoulder helps him close down space when United are hit on counters. By reading the danger and arriving first, he doesn't need to be fleet of foot. On the other hand, the last-second sliding tackle is in his arsenal. Ask Harry Winks.
Nominated for the Premier League Player of the Month award, the Swede pulled off another fantastic display against Leicester City. He combined with Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic and Bailly to form passing triangles that ran Jamie Vardy ragged while nullifying his aggressive press. Leicester's quick Fox never came near David de Gea's chicken coop either. Against Burnley, Lindelof rescued a point at the other end, on hand to knock home a loose ball to level terms late.
It's becoming ever more apparent why Zlatan Ibrahimovic recommended his signing when he arrived at Old Trafford.