Since arriving in the summer of 2017, Victor Lindelof has often been the scapegoat of any defensive lapses involving Manchester United.
A £30m signing from Benfica under Jose Mourinho, Lindelof arrived from Portugal’s biggest club with a reputation of being comfortable on the ball and a very good defender.
After making his debut for the club in the UEFA Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid, Lindelof had to wait almost two months before making his Premier League bow as a late substitute against Liverpool. His first significant minutes came as a substitute for the injured Phil Jones (bet you’d never have guessed that!) in the next game against Huddersfield.
Lindelof came on in the 23rd minute of the game and within ten minutes, United were 2-0 down thanks to two errors from the Swede. He failed to react to a loose ball for the first goal and just backed off until it was too late, before misjudging a header and allowing the striker in behind.
He went on to make just 17 appearances in total in the Premier League in that season but was largely deemed not good enough, with that Huddersfield performance always the first thing to jump to people’s memory.
The following season he made 30 appearances in the league as Mourinho was sacked midway through the year and replaced by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. With United’s poor form coinciding with Lindelof’s added inclusion, many ran with the narrative of him being the reason for it. It was swiftly ignored when Solskjaer kept faith with him and the results took a swift upturn, which infamously led to the Norwegian getting the job permanently.
Since Solskjaer’s arrival, Lindelof has been first choice alongside £80m captain Harry Maguire. He featured 35 times in the Premier League last season as the Reds finished third and secured Champions League football, with him registering his best season yet.
Lindelof is much better defensively now than he was back in his first season. Positionally he has learned to drop off an extra yard to make up for his lack of speed and is now part of a better defensive set up than when he joined.
The key numbers statistically show that he now needs to make fewer tackles per game (1 vs 0.8), is dribbled past less (0.3 vs 0.1), catches his opponent offside more (0.5 vs 0.6) and commits the same amount of fouls (0.6) in the process.
His presence in the side is felt clearly too as shown in two games in particular this season. Eric Bailly started in Lindelof’s place alongside Maguire when Tottenham visited Old Trafford in October.
Both central defenders had absolute nightmares, with Maguire arguably the worst player on the pitch as the Red Devils were thumped 6-1 on their own turf.
Compare that to when Lindelof led the defence as part of a back three when he was partnered by the inexperienced Axel Tuanzebe and left-back Luke Shaw in central defence. United were completely solid and kept Neymar, Kylian Mbappe and Angel Di Maria quiet for the most part, with their only goal coming courtesy of Anthony Martial’s head.
Lindelof is comfortable now playing in a higher line and has adapted his game tremendously to show that he isn’t the weak link that fans and pundits had him out to be. He has the skillset on the ball to play for a top side and if partnered with a top, athletic defender alongside him that could be the key to unlocking a top level defence for United.
Is he world class? No. Is he even close to the best defenders in the league? No. But is he good enough to be part of a successful defence? Most definitely. Let’s put some respect on Lindelof’s name going forward.