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Victor Lindelof needs a chance to prove himself at Manchester United

Victor Lindelof’s Manchester United career got off to a rocky start following his move from Benfica last summer. His pre-season wasn’t particularly inspiring and was capped off with a  performance against Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in which he conceded a penalty. That wasn’t unexpected though for a 23-year-old central defender settling in at Manchester United after a big summer transfer.

At the outset of the league campaign, Lindelof was used sparingly. He was used almost exclusively in the UEFA Champions League. Jose Mourinho felt Lindelof could ease in at United in European competition as it was more similar to the style of play and speed of the Primeira Liga. It would take him more time to adjust to the more direct and physical style of the Premier League.  The Swede performed admirably in his European appearances, albeit against group competition United would expect to dominate. Still, there were promising signs.

His first action in the Premier League was far less inspiring as Mourinho’s fears seemed well founded. Coming on for an injured Phil Jones (surprise, surprise) after 23 minutes, Lindelof was shocking in United’s humiliating 2-1 defeat at Huddersfield Town in late October.

In particular, he was at fault for the second goal where he simply chose not to challenge for a long clearance from the Huddersfield keeper. Laurent Depoitre capitalized on his indecision, pounced on the free ball then beat David De Gea in net.

Since then Mourinho has kept Lindelof on a short leash. He put together a string of positive domestic displays in late November during a stage when United’s central defenders were ravaged with injuries, but when the manager has had other options he’s generally turned to them.

Lindelof’s up-and-down nature hasn’t made it easy for Mourinho to give him a string of matches either. A solid display in United’s victory last month against Chelsea at Old Trafford was followed by a shaky performance against Crystal Palace for example. He was bullied on more than a few occasions by Christian Benteke. Amidst a competitive top-four race with United desperate to hold onto the second spot in the table, it’s hard to blame Mourinho for not allowing the former Benfica man to play through his mistakes.

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Lindelof was bought with the hope he would form a long and fruitful partnership with Eric Bailly. The Ivorian was a shrewd purchase last summer. He’s been a cut above the competition since his arrival and is one of the first names on the team sheet when healthy.

The rest of United’s options in central defense are all flawed in their own ways. Phil Jones is quality when healthy, but injury is always around the corner. Marcos Rojo has struggled for form since recovering from an ACL tear last year and still looks short of full fitness. Nobody has ever questioned Chris Smalling’s individual ability as a defender, but his lack of quality and composure in possession stunts United from getting on the front foot and invites pressure.

All have had numerous opportunities to stake their claim as Bailly’s preferred partner at the heart of United’s defense, but have flattered to deceive. Lindelof, as mentioned earlier, hasn’t necessarily been a rock of consistency either, but it’s imperative for United to get a read on how he’s progressed prior to the summer.

Mourinho will want to solidify a defense which has looked shaky and vulnerable at various times this season. It’s apparent United need to add fullbacks, but hard decisions will need to be made in central defense as well. It seems certain one or both of Jones and Smalling will be moved on after being given years to deliver on their promise. Rojo has just signed a new contract and the Argentine has always seemed like a classic blood-and-thunder “Mourinho player”.

Much less is known about Lindelof. He has real quality on the ball, something his competition sorely lacks but has proven to be weak and inexperienced in dealing with the direct and physical nature of the English game.

After the better part of a full campaign to adjust it’s now time see if Lindelof will sink or swim. Jose Mourinho is still searching for solutions to return Manchester United to the top. He must start by giving one of his own hand-picked transfers a chance to prove his worth.

Written by Ashwin Ramnath

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