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Could Victor Lindelof fill in as a defensive midfielder type player?

Manchester United have a few problems this season which were exposed in the 1-1 draw against Southampton at St Mary’s on Sunday afternoon. There is a major problem in midfield which could be resolved with another new addition before the transfer window closes on Tuesday 31 August 2021.

That said, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will suffer a major problem in being able to sign a new player as there have not been any permanent outgoings this summer other than the players who were released at the end of last season, who were mainly academy players. Many players have left the club on loan though with James Garner, Brandon Williams the most recent.

Jesse Lingard was expected to be sold this summer with West Ham United seemingly leading the charge after his successful loan spell at the club during the second half of last season, but so far nothing seems to be happening. United have a big problem to solve in the midfield as only Nemanja Matic is experienced in the central defensive midfield position with Scott McTominay also playing in that position since Jose Mourinho managed the club. However, that is not a solution to the problem.

Obviously, many supporters of United would like to see Solskjaer sign a player such as Declan Rice, Ruben Neves, Eduardo Camavinga or even Aurélien Tchouaméni but there could be a solution in the current United squad that could be a fill in for the position – none other than Victor Lindelof.

Some will probably laugh at this suggestion but there is a possibility that the Swedish international, who has recently been given the captain’s armband for his country, could be a feasible option in the defensive midfield position. As United have signed Raphael Varane, who could be the permanent partner to Harry Maguire in the centre of defence, Lindelof will be seeking to battle for his place in the team.

Since he signed for United, he has been a player that could be impressive on his day but could also be a liability. There are many players that could fit this description and United have had many of them. Since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, the defence has never really reached its potential. With Varane’s experience at the club, it could only be a matter of time before that happens. It is a plausible option that Lindelof could play just ahead of his defensive teammates, shielding the defence and offering something else going forward.

It may not be the best solution but this summer, with the arrivals of Tom Heaton, who signed as a free agent, Jadon Sancho, who was the most expensive player to arrive this summer and Varane, United’s ability to bring in more players is reliant on players exiting the club permanently. Lingard was expected to leave this summer, and still could but the likes of Andreas Pereira, who left for Brazilian side Flamengo on loan, Diogo Dalot, who was expected to leave the club permanently and now seems to be staying and Phil Jones, who missed the entire 2020/21 season due to a knee injury have upset the apple cart.

With players not leaving the club permanently, United probably do not have the available financials to bring in another top-level player, which seems to be a shame and something that many will not believe because of the clubs financial might. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic and supporters not being at matches for the 2020/21 season, not to mention the tail end of the 2019/20 season, clubs will have lost a lot of money so for buying clubs, getting players on loan with options to buy would be more beneficial.

It may sound like an excuse, but it is the reality of the times we are living in right now. I am optimistic that things will return to normal providing the 2021/22 season continues with supporters being allowed in stadiums, which is what is expected, unless a spanner finds itself in the works once more.

During his career which started at Benfica as a senior player during the 2013/14 season when he made his debut, making more of an impact in the 2015/16 season. Of course, Lindelof did play for Västerås SK in his native Sweden as a youth before switching to Benfica, where he played for the B team for four season, finally breaking through to the senior team in the 2016/17 season, which is where United saw more of him and bought him in the summer of 2017.

Throughout his playing career for club and country, Lindelof have played more than 18,000 minutes to date and averages 0.8 tackles per match, which could improve a little. He also averages at least one interception per match, remembering that this is across his entire career. He also averages 3.7 clearances, 0.3 dribbles and 0.5 blocks per match. In the Premier League this season, which is only two matches for United, Lindelof averages one tackle, 0.5 interceptions and 3.5 clearances and last season averaged 0.8 tackles, 1.1 interceptions, 3.3 clearaces, 0.4 dribbles and 0.5 blocks per match.

Playing as a defensive central midfielder with the defensive surety of Varane and Maguire, not to mention Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw, Lindelof might perform better under pressure. It will not be a solution for each match but could work in some fixtures. It could also see United get their wide players, including the fullbacks further forward in a match, effectively having three central defenders to rely on, which may give a better attacking dimension. Of course, it might not work either – but should still be tested if there is a call for it.

Whilst there have been moments that Lindelof has looked out of his depth at United, there have also been moments where he looked at the top of his game. During Euro 2020 for Sweden, he seemed to play with confidence, which is a good sign for a footballer. If he could offer this in a new position at the club, it could well be a masterstroke for Solskjaer and the club.

Lindelof is a professional and would probably do what was needed for the club, which is a positive sign for the player. hills there are many supporters who do not feel he is a player the club should have, if he moved to another club and performed to the best of his abilities, they would be the first to criticise, despite it being what they wanted. With a fanbase as varied as this one, there will never be 100% of people behind any action.

With Matic being the only experience central defensive midfielder, having the luxury of multiple players in this position would be ideal but it is also something that will be viewed as a luxury by the owners of the club, who let’s just say are not football savvy. It is one of those things. Lindelof could excel in this position and he could fail massively. It is one of those ‘don’t knock it unless you have tried it’ moments.

Lindelof has been known to be a utility player, capable of playing in the centre-back position, filling in as a right-back, a left-back, even playing as a central midfielder. But he has featured at the defensive midfield position 22 times, scoring three goals and two assists, so it is something that has been tried before and seemingly worked. It is worth thinking about and could be a solution to a major problem at the club, whether it be long-term or short-term. Hopefully, there will be a better solution than this but it is good to have a plan B as with the Glazer’s in charge of the club, you will have to settle for that sometimes.

Written by John Walker

Squad Depth: The Future of Manchester United’s Centre-Back Options

Manchester United have always relied on having strong squad depth to compete at the highest level in all competitions, whether that be the famous 2008/09 squad that featured the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Luis Nani, or squads from the past that featured legends such as Jaap Stam, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister and Phil and Gary Neville. However, in the past seven years or so United have arguably had little quality squad depth, and this is something that is important in every position on the field if trophies are the target.

Defensively, United have lacked two top class centre-backs since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s formidable partnership, but the signing of Raphael Varane alongside existing club captain Harry Maguire looks to have changed this.

Varane arrives at United boasting an impressive trophy haul from his time with Real Madrid, which includesfour Champions League trophies and three La Liga titles. Add this to his impressive international career, which includes a World Cup and being the youngest ever French captain, it’s clear Varane brings a winning mentality to United that is so desperately needed. United are without a league title since 2013 and haven’t lifted the coveted Champions League trophy since that fantastic night in Moscow in 2008, Varane could be the addition that finally ends the eight-year league drought.

Highly respected and revered at Los Blancos, Varane boasts an impressive defensive and disciplinary record. In his time with Real Madrid, the defender has only picked up 25 yellow cards, and impressively, two red cards. Bearing in mind that’s across 360 matches played for Madrid, his overall record is exemplary. This in itself is testament to the Frenchman’s maturity and level-headed approach to the game, something that is very evident from the interviews he’s given throughout his career, once stating to Real Madrid TV “I always want to play clean”. All of these factors combined paints a picture of a mature top-class player, a quiet leader, and more importantly- a winner.

It’s clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to quickly integrate a player of Varane’s quality into the starting XI, and naturally he will be paired with club captain Harry Maguire. The captain status and Maguire’s impressive run of form throughout last season practically makes him untouchable within the line-up. This new pairing of Maguire and Varane subsequently means that trusted starter Victor Lindelof will lose his place, and he may have a case for being frustrated.

Throughout his four-year tenure at United, Lindelof has never fully convinced the Old Trafford faithful of his ability to be a first-choice centre-back option. However, as of late Lindelöf looks to have had an upturn in form, perhaps personified by his excellent pin point ball to Bruno Fernandes in the opening game against Leeds, which led to Fernandes’s hat-trick.

Nicknamed the ‘The Iceman’, Lindelof has been mostly reliable amongst United’s back four, which is in dire contrast to fellow defender Eric Bailly. If Lindelöf is ‘the iceman’, Bailly is a firecracker- erratic, rash but possessing an undeniable level of quality. Bailly is a tenacious defender, stronger and much quicker than Lindelöf, at the surface level he seems to be the perfect partner for Maguire.

However, dig a little deeper and you see the awful injury record that Bailly has, missing several stretches of games at a time. A lack of consistency means Bailly cannot be considered as a starter, albeit seemingly possessing a high level of talent. A mix of Lindelöf’s reliability and coolness with Bailly’s speed and strength is what United need, and it seems Varane may be just that.

While Varane is nailed on to be a starter, improving United’s starting back four, his potential impact on Lindelof and Bailly could be one of the greatest effects. Solskjaer will hope the arrival of Varane may spur on the other defenders within the United contingent to up their game, which would benefit the quality in squad depth that the team possesses. United will be hoping that they may be able to replicate ‘the Alex Telles’ effect, a signing which almost certainly contributed to Luke Shaw’s incredible campaign last season. Genuine quality breeds even more quality, as the bar is raised so is the level required to stay in contention, and the presence of having a World Cup winner will hopefully bolster the performances of Lindelof and Bailly when selected.

This is vital if United are looking to win on all fronts, squad rotation will be key to avoiding injuries and keeping players fresh. In the past when United have shuffled around defensively, whether that be in cup games or as a matter of necessity, the backline has always seemed somewhat frail or unsure of itself. Solskjaer will hope that this will no longer be the case, with both Lindelof and Bailly having the extra motivation of needing to prove their quality if they want to have a chance of getting back into the starting line-up. 

Conversely, one potential issue that could arise is if either Lindelof or Bailly become disgruntled with being delegated to the bench. While it’s unlikely Lindelöf will grow frustrated, given all indications seem to point to a happy player, Bailly may look to leave the club if he is unable to get many opportunities this season. Bailly penned a new deal back in April this year, keeping him at the club until June 2024, however the international may not be all that happy if he’s denied game time. Signing the contract Bailly made it clear he had intentions of an injury free stint, claiming that he “loved the club”.

The 27-year-old also said he viewed the new contract as “a fresh challenge”, perhaps alluding to his troublesome injury history and how he is trying to move on from that. While Bailly has clear affections for the club, he may just find the signing of Varane less than four months after his contract renewal as a bit of a kick in the teeth. At 27, Bailly needs to be playing regular football if he is to stay at the top of his game, unfortunately United may not be the best place for that.

Away from more experienced players, United still have both Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi within their ranks to consider. Both English centre-backs are still relatively young, Tuanzebe being 23 and Mengi 19, and the pair are touted as having a very high ceiling of talent. While Tuanzebe will be unavailable for selection this year, having just secured a third loan move to Aston Villa, it’s clear that United see a future at the club for Tuanzebe having also just signed a contract extension. While not starting in many games last season, Tuanzebe really impressed in the away win against Paris Saint-Germain, managing to deal with Kylian Mbappe’s blistering pace effectively.

In contrast, Mengi has spent most of his career so far impressing for the under 23’s, although did move to Derby County on loan in the second half of last season. The Manchester born academy graduate had put in a string of good performances before unfortunately having his loan move cut short due to a hamstring injury. Mengi’s future for this season is still undecided as of the time of writing this article, however it’s highly likely that the impressive youngster will go back out on loan to the Championship for this season.

A loan move playing regular Championship football will surely prove more beneficial than simply playing in the under 23’s for Mengi, likely exposing him to adversity and the realities of playing week in week out in front of a large crowd. United will hope both players will gain more valuable experience and playing time this season, so when the pair do return to United, they will provide fresh competition.Overall, the future looks bright for United defensively, and for the centre-back position, in particular.

The squad has gained a born winner with valuable experience in this window, and the hope is this will ignite a competitive spirit amongst the defensive ranks. The addition of more valuable loan experience for the likes of Tuanzebe also bodes well for the future, and with the quality of the current overall United team, United could finally be setup with a high quality, experienced backline for years to come.

Written by Sam Wilson

Manchester United could have some players back from injury against Liverpool but will it make a difference?

Manchester United will be back in action in the Premier League on Sunday as they welcome league leaders Liverpool to the Theatre of Dreams in the clubs first local derby of the season. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team owe the supporters a performance worthy of the support they have been given but that could be problematic with injuries.

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof, Phil Jones, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard and Mason Greenwood have all suffered injuries with some expected to be back soon. Diogo Dalot was injured in his last match, whilst both Eric Bailly and Tim Fosu-Mensah remain on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery before the end of the year.

It has been suggested in the media that Paul Pogba could be back for the Liverpool match, however, reports have also suggested that he will miss the clash. I guess if you cover both bases, you have a good chance at being right, which is something the media do at times, all in plain sight so many don’t question it, instead use it as propaganda against the manager.

Victor Lindelof is reportedly getting ready to play for Sweden against Spain on Tuesday, which could suggest he will be back in the squad to face Liverpool. Aaron Wan-Bissaka has been absent for the last three matches suffering from tonsillitis, with hope that he will be able to play after sitting out for the international break also.

Luke Shaw has missed eight matches along with Anthony Martial, both of whom suffered thigh injuries in the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace back in August. Shaw has been training since before the 0-0 draw against AZ Alkmaar, so could be ready to fortify the left-back position but Martial could still be a doubt as he might not have trained yet.

Phil Jones could also be back, although he has played just 135 minutes of football this season, is unlikely to start many big matches. Axel Tuanzebe has risen well ahead of him in the defensive ranks this season, which is a good thing, in my opinion. Solskjaer also suggested that Jesse Lingard, who missed Newcastle United defeat, may be back for this match.

Mason Greenwood, who has played a lot of football with both Martial and Marcus Rashford having time on the sidelines so far this season, suffered a lower back injury against Newcastle, which stopped him from playing for England U21s during the international break. He will be assessed ahead of the Liverpool match, which is not great news.

Diogo Dalot is also back on the sidelines through injury, suffering more of the same, to do with his hip, which kept him out earlier this season, which also suggests the problem was not solved and may have been prolonged. Not that he’s a big miss, as he is unlikely to start at right-back much this season based on his lack of experience.

Both Bailly and Fosu-Mensah are expected to be out until at least late December, in Bailly’s case, not return date for the Dutch defender, which might mean he will be out until 2020. United, however, are not crying out for defensive reinforcement yet, which is a positive at this time, not that many will see it that way. Some players seem to be made of glass now.

Hypothetically, if it were expected that Wan-Bissaka, Lindelof, Shaw and Pogba, Lingard and Martial were all back in the team against Liverpool, would it make much of a difference? That is a question that many will answer right away negatively, as the fan base, at least on social media is toxic and heading much deeper than that.

Some will wonder if these ‘people’ are actually supporters of the club or whether they are supporters of the decline, moaning about anything and everything. United have not had much luck this season. Injuries have been costly to this already threadbare squad and talent, determination and desire were already scarce before injury took its toll.

United should be fired up for matches such as this one against Liverpool. They were up for the clash against Chelsea at the start of the season, the best performance of the season incidentally. United has a history of playing in these big matches and all of the players who are fit to play should have the desire, determination, and hunger to achieve.

Victor Lindelof renews contract at Manchester United signing five-year deal

Manchester United defender Victor Lindelof has signed a new five-year contract to remain at the Old Trafford club. This would see him remain at United until the summer of 2024, although there is the option for a further year to be added to his contract. In the summer, there was speculation that Barcelona wanted to sign the Swedish international.

The 25-year-old signed for the club in the summer of 2017 under the management of Jose Mourinho. After a pretty poor first season, the Swede dug in and was the best defender at the club last season, continuing that this season, partnered with summer signing Harry Maguire – an indication that the defence has been sorted for the foreseeable future.

Lindelof has played 74 times for United in just over two years, scoring one goal, which came under current manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer, the equaliser in the 2-2 draw against Burnley earlier in the year, in which he was named the Man of the Match by the clubs supporters. Speaking to the official Manchester United website, Lindelof said:

“Since the day I arrived at United it has felt like home. I have grown significantly both as a player and as a person in the last two years and for that I am grateful to everyone at the club for their help and support.

“I love playing football and my aim now is to help the team to win trophies and repay the fans for their unrivalled support.

“I know that everyone at the club shares this vision and will give everything to get Manchester United back to where it belongs.

“I’m still young and know I can improve further but with the help of the boss and his coaching staff, I believe that only good things are ahead for this great club.”

Solskjaer will be happy to retain the Swedish international who has risen to the challenge of playing for United in the past 18 months or so. The fact that the club now has a ball playing defender in their midst who is being given opportunities to show his ability is a great thing to happen after years of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling underachieving.

The Norwegian spoke about Lindelof establishing himself into his squad, also becoming a very important part of his team, which is good to hear. The fact that the Swede shows calmness on the pitch is light years ahead of the panicking of Jones and Smalling, although it was not always like that. Solskjaer, speaking to the official Manchester United website, said:

“Victor [Lindelof] has established himself here and has become a very important part of our team. He brings calmness on the pitch and I can see that he is determined to help this club and to be successful here.

“I’m extremely happy that he has committed his future to Manchester United. We’re all looking forward to working together to deliver the success and get United back to where we know the club belongs.”

United now have a strong foundation in defence with Lindelof and Maguire as the first-choice defenders with Axel Tuanzebe currently the third option in the team. Once Eric Bailly is fit, he will content with the trio for a place in the team, which will not only strengthen the defence, it will bring the best out of all of these players.

Solskjaer will be seeking to find a team that can contend for titles and trophies for the years to come with United spending too much time out of doing just that, It is good to see a manager with a plan for the future, which might be costly right now. Blooding in youth and building around that is the way of this club and that should never change.

Looking at Manchester United’s defensive depth for the 2019/20 season

Manchester United did well during the summer transfer window, adding Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who signed from Crystal Palace and Harry Maguire, who arrived from Leicester City. It was a summer that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needed to pay attention to the defence, which allowed more than 50 goals to be conceded in the Premier League along last season.

Solskjaer spent £125 million; £80 million for Maguire and an initial £45 million for Wan-Bissaka giving some much-needed defensive ability ahead of the 2019/20 season in which United would be tasked with chasing the likes of Manchester City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur and Arsenal, to regain a place in the top four of the league.

United finished sixth last season, five points adrift of a place in the top four, which could have been much different if United managed to beat both Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City at the end of the season. However, hindsight is only fantastic when you look back as if you change two factors, other factors may have had to change also.

Goalkeeper depth; Solskjaer does not need to worry in this area.

Solskjaer has three great first-team options in goal this season; David De Gea, Sergio Romero and Lee Grant. That will be the order of importance in the squad. The club also had the likes of Dean Henderson, Joel Pereira and Kieran O’Hara, who have all been loaned out to Sheffield United, Hearts of Midlothian and Burton Albion respectively.

De Gea will be the go-to guy to start the majority of matches, namely in the Premier League. As for the Carabao Cup, the UEFA Europa League and the Emirates FA Cup, it could well be Romero who features, as he did in the cup competitions last season, other than the UEFA Champions League, of course. Grant could be a shoo-in for matches in these competitions too.

It was hoped that Henderson could have been afforded time in the Premier League this season but with De Gea’s contract being extended by the extra year agreed to in 2015, it was unlikely that he would be the first option in the goalkeeping ranks, however, he will get that Premier League experience he craved for, which might do him some good.

Fullback depth; Solskjaer’s options are much improved this season.

Last season, United’s defence left a lot to be desired. First of all, in the fullback position, Jose Mourinho, who started the season as manager, then Solskjaer had Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young, Matteo Darmian, Luke Shaw, and Diogo Dalot to choose from in both the left-back and right-back positions. Not a lot of pace, or youth for that matter.

Valencia was on the sidelines for much of the season, leaving the other four to contend for places in the squad. Young was often criticised, as way Shaw. Dalot was too inexperienced, but gave his all and Darmian seldom played. This season though, after the departure of Valencia, Wan-Bissaka arrived and has improved the position greatly.

Both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw will face competition from Young and Dalot, who can both play on the left or the right. Darmian may still play a part despite his future up in the air, although his current contract will expire at the end of the season. The fullback role is looking good for the current season with youth coming through the ranks to add more competition.

Central defensive depth; the strongest defence in six years?

Solskjaer has Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, Chris Smalling, Marcos Rojo and Axel Tuanzebe in his ranks for the current season. There was the rumour of Rojo likely to depart before the closure of the European transfer window at the start of September, but it is just rumour right now. With seven players, there is some depth in this area.

Bailly is injured until the Christmas period, meaning Solskjaer has six players contesting two positions in the squad. Lindelof and Maguire secured the central defensive area in the 4-0 victory over Chelsea at Old Trafford last weekend and will be expected to resume their positions against Wolverhampton Wanderers on Monday evening.

In case of injury to either Lindelof or Maguire, or the need for rotation, Tuanzebe will be a great option for Solskjaer as he did well during pre-season and learned some valuable things on loan with Aston Villa last season. The likes of Jones and Smalling could also be considered. Rojo not so much, based on pre-season appearances.

The depth of this squad is pretty good, despite the moaning for central midfield signings during the summer transfer window. Solskjaer will have had targets and if it was not possible to sign them, panic buying was just going to create more problems in the future with many players on high wages and unable to be moved on; Alexis Sanchez for instance.

United have many options in different areas; a minimum of three players, counting those already in the first team this season, which are players who have already made their debuts for the club in the recent years. In some positions, United has four sometimes five options, based on my opinion on where they would be able to play in the 4-2-3-1 formation.

This is the formation which Solskjaer has used more often than not, and a formation which will get the best out of the attacking players, using their hunger, determination and more importantly, their pace to launch attacking and counter-attacking plays during matches. Solskjaer’s identity seems to be young, courage and success.

Above, you can see the 4-2-3-1 formation, keeping an eye on the defence where there is a minimum of three players for each position, listed in order of importance to the squad. At fullback, both Wan-Bissaka and Shaw seem to be safe, although the emergence of Dalot could change that, more for Shaw, if he does not improve as he should have.

In the centre of defence, Lindelof and Maguire are certain to start more matches together, fitness and injury aside, but in that instance, there is some depth which could help get United through a difficult time. Tuanzebe, at least for me, is trusted more than the likes of Jones and Smalling; Bailly is at the bottom because of injury at the present time.

If the Ivorian improves his game, he could add more competition for either centre-back, which in turn will inspire players to perform to the best of their ability in order to keep their place. Competition is the best thing to bring the best out of players. This defence could achieve a lot; first of all to ensure they concede fewer than 54 goals this season.

copyright: JW