Manchester United completed the signing of Swedish midfielder Victor Lindelof from Benfica four years ago. Back then, Lindelof was an up-and-coming talent. The Swede just had his breakthrough season after five years with the club.
He did not have the best of starts after moving to Manchester United in 2017. The Swede struggled in his debut season and often found himself bearing the brunt of the pundits. But an impressive season saw the him establish himself as one of the first-names on the teamsheet.
Lindelof always possessed the necessary skillset to play further up the pitch. Former Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho even talked about deploying him further up the pitch, but the idea never materialized. Four seasons later, and Manchester United are still in search of their defensive midfielder.
Victor Lindelof: A Potential Solution in Defensive Midfield for Manchester United
Victor Lindelof Started as a Midfielder
When Victor Lindelof first arrived at Old Trafford, he was quizzed about his best positions and his playing style. During the interview, the Swede stated that he started his career as a midfielder before moving back into defence. A couple of days later, his manager at Vasteras confirmed Lindelof’s story during an interview with the Manchester Evening News.
Granath said that Lindelof started training with the first-team as a 15-year-old. He started in midfield but later moved to defence after he was deemed ‘too high’ for a position in midfield. Back in 2019, Lindelof gave us another glimpse into his formative years during an exclusive interview with ESPN. The Swede said that he started his career as a No.10. He later played as an eight then as a six before playing in defence. But, he often thought about himself as a No.10 in his head.
Jose Mourinho, the man who brought Lindelof to Manchester, also spoke about the idea of playing the Swede in midfield. But four seasons later, Manchester United are yet to experiment with Lindelof further up the pitch.
Victor Lindelof Fulfills Many of the Criteria’s for a Defensive Midfielder
Defensive midfielders are often one of the most underrated players in a football team. They rarely share the spotlight. But, their absence often disrupts the balance of any team.
A good defensive midfielder has the ability to read and break up play. They have great confidence in their abilities. Their technique, game awareness and defensive skillsets are often their striking attributes. They also have high concentration levels, stamina, and provide a calming influence in midfield. Most importantly, they have good positional sense and tactical awareness.
A glance at Lindelof’s abilities is quite noticeable to understand that he fulfills many of the categories. Lindelof is a ball-playing central defender who marks the area rather than the attacker. He often jockeys the attacker and draws him to less dangerous areas before committing a tackle rather than going head-on against the opponent.
A player with great game reading ability, Lindelof has the ability to nip attacks in the bud. He has helped stop several attacks early before they have transformed into dangerous offensive moves. He also has very good game awareness and has found himself taking up good positions on the pitch.
One of his major attributes is his ability with the ball. Lindelof is very good with the ball at his feet and has a wide range of passes in his arsenal. He has showcased the ability to progress with the ball and initiate attacks from deep. Last season saw Lindelof spray dangerous long balls for the forwards, which was a common sight during his Benfica days.
Nicknamed the ‘Iceman’, Lindelof describes himself as a calm player. Over the years, he has shown a tendency to crumble under pressure but in most physical situations. However, on the ball, he has lived up to his name.
His communication skills is another attribute that is rarely spoken about. The central defender communicates very well with his defence. His fitness record also speaks volumes about his availability. Apart from his difficult debut season in England, Lindelof has played 40 or more games in each of the last five seasons.
Some of these attributes are not quantifiable, while some can be broken down into numbers. According to Whoscored.com, Lindelof has a career 88.5% pass completion rate. The Swede also averages one tackle, one interception, 3.7 clearances and 0.5 blocks per 90 mins. These numbers are not eye-boggling but are decent for a defender.
According to Fbref.com, Lindelof possesses a press success rate of 31.5%. He also has a 57.1% career dribble success rate. The numbers indicate the Swede’s ability to progress with the ball and defend without one.
The Manchester United man is obviously not the ideal player to play as a defensive midfielder. The Sweden international has his own set of flaws that could potentially hamper his chances of playing up the pitch.
One of Lindelof’s major drawbacks is his lack of recovery pace. He is not one of the quickest players on the pitch and has struggled while playing against quicker opponents. He has found himself struggling to get back into great positions after being beaten by a pacy attacker.
Another of Lindelof’s major drawbacks is his less aggressive playing style. As mentioned before, the 27-year-old likes to draw attackers into difficult positions and make challenges rather than taking a risk and confronting them head-on. Playing as a defensive midfielder often compels a player to make that quick decision rather than drawing them into a less dangerous position.
Heading is another department that has seen Lindelof struggle to cope. But being a defensive midfielder doesn’t always require a player to have the best heading attributes. Now the obvious one would be his lack of experience playing further up the pitch. But having a little experience of playing up the pitch can help the coaches to successfully re-train the 27-year-old.
The Arrival of a New Centre-Back
Manchester United will almost certainly be buying a new centre-back this summer. French World Cup winner Raphael Varane is reportedly very close to securing a move to Old Trafford this summer.
The arrival of a new centre-back could potentially leave Manchester United with six first-team central defenders. While Axel Tuanzebe is likely to leave the club on loan this season and the future of Phil Jones is still uncertain, Nemanja Matic could play in defence if any injury crisis hits the Manchester United backline.
This scenario could help the Red Devils explore a bit more of Victor Lindelof’s talents. With the incoming player likely to replace Lindelof in the starting 11, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could experiment with the 27-year-old in a slightly more advanced role. Versatile players always have a better advantage over players that are capable of playing in just one position.
The presence of two great defensive midfielders, Nemanja Matic and Michael Carrick, could help ease Lindelof into the position.
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