Jesper Blomqvist 1998, Bojan Djordjic 1999, Henrik Larsson 2007, Zlatan Ibrahimovic 2016 and Victor Lindelöf 2017. These five Swedish players have all represented Manchester United at senior level. The latest addition, Victor Lindelöf arrives to sure up the Red Devil’s defence. Initial reports suggest that Jose Mourinho has shelled out £35 million for the Benfica centre back who will more than likely partner last summers defensive signing Eric Bailly at the heart of United’s defence. So what will new the new signing bring to the current United side?
2016/17 was an indifferent year for Man United’s defence. As any Mourinho side their defensive record was sound over all. The statistics only told half the story as they had the second meanest defence in the league shipping just 29 goals in their 38 games, only Tottenham had a better record. Again in the Europa League they only conceded 8 goals throughout the tournament. Raising the question do the Red Devils need a new defender? While the season went well defensively there were blips for the Manchester club. They were blown away by Chelsea on Jose’s return 4-0 in a game that saw Bailly and Smalling start alongside each other before Marcos Rojo replaced Bailly early in the second half. United were also beaten 3-1 by Watford where the same central defensive partnership played together and this time finished the game.
The real issue here is the consistency of the partnership. Players have had injuries all season and no duo have really formed a real understanding. Looking at the situation Smalling and Bailly are the strongest pair. However, Mourinho has been vocal in his criticism of Smalling and his England team mate and fellow defender Phil Jones. Both accused of being ‘over cautious’ when returning from injury. The special one wants his players to play whenever they can. He expects his players to give him everything and he clearly felt that these two were not willing to do so. Questions must be raised over their futures at the club.
Daley Blind has also played at centre back this season. This is more out of desperation than anything else, he was signed as a midfielder and at a push a left back. He is not a centre back and United cannot proceed trying to fit a square block in a circular hole. That leaves Rojo who has performed above expectations this year. Having been considered a liability last year and producing some rash challenges at the start of this season the jury was out on the Argentinian defender. He excelled when called upon. His performance in the 2-0 victory against Chelsea at Old Trafford showed how far he had come. He and Bailly showed his ability in the dark arts matching Diego Costa’s antics and keeping the lively striker quite all afternoon. Youth team graduate Axel Tuanzebe may exepct more games in his preferred position in the middle of defence next season after good displays at the back end of this season.
Therefore there is clearly a place for Lindelöf to fill. It is clear that Jose believes he will have the correct mentality and work ethic for the his high demands. He has been given the seal of approval from outgoing (or so it would seem) national team mate Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Manchester United have been keen on the Swedish defender since the end of last year and rumours circulated he could move in January.
Lindelöf has helped Benfica to a domestic double in a superb season for both the player and the club. He has turned out 47 times for the Portuguese champions only missing two of the clubs league games. Showing that he has the ability to play week in week out as well as performing in European and domestic cup competitions. He seems to tick this box on Jose’s criteria. He is also establishing himself at international level being capped 12 times to date.
He has won a lot of trophies in his time at Benfica. He signed for Befica in 2010 from Swedish club Västerås SK. Since then he has gone on to win; 3 Portuguese league titles, 2 Portuguese cups, 1 Portuguese league cup and 1 Portuguese super cup. As well as this he was a part of the Sweden under 21 side that won the European championship in 2015.
The Swede has a lot of what a team would like to have in a central defender. He likes a tackle and puts himself about as well as being good in the air. He also has great positioning and reads the game well. His ability with the ball is above average for a centre back also. All these strengths will be tested especially as he is moving to the Premier League. If he has weaknesses they will be exposed in England as the level is higher than the one he is currently playing at. The signs are good however, in terms of what he has shown at Benfica and him still being a young player at 22.
Mourinho was always going to bring in players again this summer. He wants his own players in so he can mould them into the style of play he needs to be successful at Old Trafford. Lindelöf will hopefully, for United fans, bring a consistent partner for Bailly and form a good understanding with him. He has to adapt to the style of play, but it is an exciting signing for Manchester United.