Victor Lindelof’s playing style explained – and the Man Utd problems he solves
The £30.7m signing now having passed a medical, this brings to an end a transfer saga that had been rumbling since January 2017.
Initially it was thought United would sign him in January to ease their defensive woes, but Benfica kept him in order to help them win the Primeira Liga and Taça de Portugal. Fresh off his second domestic double in the last four years, Lindelof is heading to Old Trafford. But besides from having an awesome name, what exactly does Lindelof bring to United? Squawka investigates!
First thing’s first, Lindelof likes to pass. In fact he’s honestly the kind of defender you could see José Mourinho’s great rival Pep Guardiola signing. The Swede is unquestionably a ball-playing centre-back. Only two players completed more passes in the Primeira Liga than his 1,746 last season, and neither with an accuracy that rivals his 90%.
This may seem a strange fit for Mourinho, but it actually makes perfect sense given his love of midfield destroyers. Mourinho adores the ability to bring in an enforcer for the big games (Marouane Fellaini) or just to start 4-3-3 anyway.
The problem with this is that it severely impacts United’s ability to get the ball to Paul Pogba in decent positions. The Portuguese did start playing Michael Carrick around the winter, but in the end he wasn’t defensively solid enough (plus, he’s 35) to keep that role.
But put Lindelof in defence and you have a supreme passer of the ball that will be able to bisect opposing lines of press to get the ball to Paul Pogba in promising positions, or, hell, he could bypass midfield altogether and play it long to your strikers. With the ball at his feet, Lindelof can do anything.
Another aspect in which Lindelof is like a Guardiola centre-back is his love of stepping up. The Swede routinely not only steps up with the ball into midfield but will surge all the way into the final third if the opportunity presents himself.
This fits United so well, as Eric Bailly loves to do the same thing. Mourinho intends to pair the Swede and the Ivorian and you can see how they dovetail. While Bailly steps up in an aggressive way, completing 0.65 take-ons per 90 minutes, Lindelof only moves forward if there is space.
So both centre-backs are aggressive, which will allow United to push up high and squeeze opponents into the box, but only one of them takes risks when dribbling, meaning United won’t be too cavalier.
Weak in the tackle
If Lindelof has a major defensive weakness, it’s that he’s not a prolific tackler. He’s decent enough at it, sure, but he only attempted 36 in all 33 games played in the Primeira Liga last season. For reference, Eric Bailly attempted 87 in 25 games, and Marcos Rojo 50 in 21.
But this weakness isn’t actually a problem in terms of Manchester United, as he slots into a defence that is full of players who enjoy tackling. His partnership with Bailly will likely see him act as the cooler “stay on your feet” Rio Ferdinand-type to Bailly’s “tackle anything in the oppositions colours” type.
Where Lindelof does excel defensively is with his timing. He has a great sense of where and when to be, and is able to judge the flight of long-balls well, executing solid headed clearances when on the move. This fits with Mourinho’s style of play because United will often get hit on the break by opponents savvy enough to sit deep, and that’s where having another defender as skilled in the art of timing interceptions as Eric Bailly could be transformative.
A minor point given the presence of Paul Pogba, but Victor Lindelof is quality at set-pieces. His long-passing ability means that he can turn free-kicks on the halfway line into dangerous goalscoring opportunities (hello Marouane Fellaini) but he can also take direct free-kicks too. He only scored one goal in the Primeira Liga last season but it was a dramatic equaliser from a free-kick against city rivals Sporting Portugal. He’s a man for the big occasion too, which will delight Mourinho.