May 15, 2021

Man Utd

News

Paul Pogba influence bringing the best out of Victor Lindelof at Man United

4 min read

If Victor Lindelof plays more passes like he did in Andalusia people will stop talking about Manchester United needing to sign a centre-back just to partner Harry Maguire.

Lindelof‘s two assists in nearly four years for United have come within four months, both passes trapped and finished by Marcus Rashford. Lindelof should showcase that vision more often, although he might argue a teammate needs to make that run more often.

“Definitely Victor,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer replied when MUTV’s Stewart Gardner pressed him for a standout performer in Granada. “He kept us glued together and he was good on the ball, to command. And what a pass for the first goal.

“A fantastic goal all round. We’ve seen Marcus do that before. He had one just before from a pass from Victor as well, in behind, and very happy with the way he took it.

“It’s a foundation to build a performance from. Today we didn’t hit the levels we’re used to, but we did enough to get a good result to take back.”

Lindelof was not United’s prime centre-back target in 2017 but signed partly for his impressive distribution. Lindelof’s passing accuracy into the final third for former club Benfica clocked in at just under 80 per cent and Jose Mourinho wanted the flexibility of a back three to allow Lindelof to emerge into midfield.

Solskjaer has largely eschewed a defensive trident this season as part of United’s progressive plan and Lindelof has missed more games as he continues to manage a back injury. Just like last term, United suffered a morale-crushing defeat without Lindelof in the 2-1 reverse against Sheffield United in January.


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Just as significant for Lindelof as his assist in Granada was his defending on the hour. Maguire over-committed just beyond the halfway line and was swiftly bypassed by Yangel Herrera, Lindelof glanced over his shoulder for a milli-second to check Roberto Soldado’s position, spotted Aaron Wan-Bissaka covering and approached Herrera, narrowing the angle and blocking the cross.

Maguire has a tendency to desert his partner and the speed of Eric Bailly has usually covered for his lapses. Lindelof had a head-start on Herrera and his defensive reading is not as haphazard as Bailly’s.

United did not win with a defensive axis in Lindelof’s absence last season, an undistinguished one after he suddenly received a new contract in September 2019. That is a failing of Matt Judge, the rebranded ‘director of football negotiations’ too preoccupied with embellishing assets on a balance sheet.

Lindelof is still a member of United’s clear-and-obvious back four that Solskjaer will not alter even for an underwhelming Europa League tie. Bailly suffers as many injuries as Sideshow Bob on his journey to Terror Lake and Lindelof has regained form for the run-in.

Solskjaer has a blind spot with Lindelof and there has been a whiff of Scandinavian solidarity when, during the winter fixtures, Maguire improved with a more athletic foil in Bailly. Bailly has merited more starts but could easily be sold in the summer as he approaches the final year of his contract, whereas Maguire and Lindelof are undeniably at United for the long-term.



Lindelof was United's man of the match in Spain
Lindelof was United’s man of the match in Spain

As a rare Scandinavian in the United first-team, Lindelof enjoys partisan backing in his homeland, a stronghold of United following. There is a reason why United are in the market for another centre half two years on from the world record addition of Maguire and Lindelof has been too inconsistent for most of this season and last.

What must madden the United coaches is Lindelof’s knack for performing against the elite. His finest performances have come in wins over Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City and AC Milan, while he saved his best for last in 2019-20, neutering Jamie Vardy in the Champions League qualifying decider. Lindelof was United’s player of the year in 2018-19, when he shackled Cristiano Ronaldo, Harry Kane and Kylian Mbappe.

Lindelof arrived in Manchester an introvert and was so monosyllabic in Maryland after the end of his first pre-season tour the quotes were not published. Paul Pogba has coaxed out a more extroverted side, and the Lindelofs are close with their neighbours Pogbas.

So much so Lindelof is now passing like Pogba, who congratulated him before Rashford on Thursday night.

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