Victor Lindelof: From flop to undroppable

                                                                        Source: Reuters

We all remember *that* away game versus Huddersfield and unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. Tom Ince turning him inside out, De Gea saving the following attempt, Mooy following it up and burrying it into the bottom right hand corner. The mistimed header where Depoitre capitalised on his mistake, rounded De Gea and slotted it home to make it a day to forget for the young Swede.
He went on to feature in a total of twenty games for Manchester United in all competitions during the 2017/2018 season, and was left out of the squad a total of thirteen times during the course of the season. These are, objectively, numbers that are not good enough for a £31 million signing playing for Manchester United, especially when looking at his competition at centre half.

The criticism, or slating if you will, from newspapers and media outlets towards Lindelof were not what you would call gracious. Spanish sports newspaper Marca put Lindelof at centre half together with Bonucci and Höwedes in their 2017 worst XI of the year. FourFourTwo named him as Manchester United's worst player during the 2017/2018 season, where they also included these words about Lindelof: ”there is nothing indicating that he will be around for long at Old Trafford.”

Whilst he did start to perform better during the second part of the season, there were still a lot of questions regarding his qualities as a football player, but more importantly whether he was good enough for Manchester United. It would, quite frankly, take a minor miracle for Victor Lindelof to turn his so far nightmarish time at Manchester United around.

Luckily, the World Cup came around at just the right time for Lindelof. As has often been the case with Victor Lindelof, he has seemed to (on most occasions) perform a lot better with the Swedish National Team than with Manchester United. And this was no exception.

Missing the first match against South Korea due to illness, he put up world class performance after world class performance alongside his colleague at centre half Andreas Granqvist, most notably against Germany. Here they so very nearly held the former World Cup champions to a 1-1 draw had it not been for the magic of Toni Kroos in the literal last second of the game.

They went on to triumph Mexico with a comfortable 3-0 win as they progressed to the round of sixteen together with Mexico, as Germany headed home. They then faced Switzerland as Lindelof and Granqvist once again kept a clean sheet as Emil Forsberg sent Sweden through to the quarter finals, where they would be facing England, which may have come to be one of Lindelof´s most important games with regard to his future at The Theatre of Dreams.

With the whole world watching, and more importantly the English press and media, he put in a solid performance, keeping Harry Kane quiet during more or less the whole endurance of the game. Sweden had been knocked out and football was, at the moment, coming home. But Lindelof had shown exactly how good he could be when at his very best, taking Sweden to a quarter final of the World Cup for the first time since 1996, conceding only four times throughout the whole tournament.

For probably the first in his short time at Manchester United, Lindelof was being talked about in positive terms. The opinion of him and Bailly being the best pairing at centre half for Manchester United grew stronger and stronger, and would continue to do so.

When the starting lineups for the very first game of the 2018/2019 Premier League season were announced ahead of Manchester United-Leicester, Lindelof and Bailly could be found at centre half. A decent performance was put in by the pair, and they were designated to start in the next fixture away versus Brighton. A game which once again was remembered for all the wrong reasons.

Lindelof was outsmarted by 34 year old Glenn Murray as he flicked the opening goal in for Brighton. Shane Duffy scored the second after a series of errors in the Manchester United defence and Pascal Gross scored their third from the penalty spot after a headless challenge from Bailly.

And just like that, Lindelof was back to square one. The Mirror commented on his performance with the harshest of assessments: ”Is he the worst big defensive signing Mourinho has made?” and Gary Neville was not any kinder in his judgement: ‘Bailly and Lindelof were poor. They are the ones Jose has signed. It has been poor recruitment. That back four aren’t good enough to win the title.’

In the following fixture against Tottenham, both Lindelof and Bailly were left out of the starting eleven, with Lindelof being placed on the bench and Bailly being completely left out of the squad. Two goals from Harry Kane and Lucas Moura later, Phil Jones got injured and was unable to continue. Lindelof was called down from the stands, was given his final instructions and was subbed on in the 58th minute.

In the 65th minute, Lindelof  was completely, unchallenged looking for a pass from his position at centre half. Dele Alli started moving toward him, Lindelof turned back and executed the weakest of passes back toward De Gea in goal.  Dele Alli went round De Gea, but hesitated with his finish and De Gea was able to avert the situation. Lindelof can be seen jumping and furiously punching the air, obviously because of his own mistake and nothing else. On the following corner he failed to mark Harry Kane and he came as close as you can be to scoring his second of the night.

Another nightmare of a game for both Lindelof and Manchester United, and this time, it would not have been unfair to believe that Lindelof´s time at Old Trafford was done and dusted. "I actually feel a bit sorry for him [Lindelof], he should not be playing at this level" were Jamie Carragher´s exact words after the performance versus Tottenham.

But Mourinho persisted with playing Lindelof, starting him at centre half four matches in a row, before dropping him in both the 0-0 draw at home to Valencia and the 3-2 turn around versus Newcastle after the 1-3 defeat to West Ham at the London Stadium. He was, however, once again featured in the 2-2 draw to Chelsea, where he at times showed his defensive qualities.

There was, however, one game that was the turnaround for the constantly criticised and lambasted 24 year old from the small town of Vasteras in Sweden. Manchester United-Juventus, in the Champions League, under the flood lights at Old Trafford and the return of Cristiano Ronaldo. This was without doubt the biggest game of the season, especially considering the tragically poor performances in the Premier League.

90 minutes later, Manchester United had lost 0-1 to Juventus. A disappointing result, and at parts performance, but there was one massive positive for every single Manchester United fan, and Jose Mourinho, to take from that game. Victor Lindelof had, single handedly, saved his career at Manchester United. He had, as you would describe it, pocketed Ronaldo nearly all game and had probably for the first time at Manchester United been the player everyone had hoped he would be. "Disappointing overall but I thought Lindelof was excellent" were Gary Neville´s  written words after Lindelof´s massive performance. Oh, how times can change.

In November of 2018 he won Sweden´s most prestigious individual award, ”Guldbollen”, as Swede´s player of the year. In the same month he won Manchester United's ”Player of the Month” award for November, as voted by the fans.

After the departure of José Mourinho and the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskajer, Lindelof has once again raised his defensive game through several impressive performances throughout December and January, further cementing himself as first choice centre half at Manchester United.

Victor Lindelof undoubtedly had the worst possible start to his career as a Manchester United player.  Nearly a year on, he is considered undroppable in the heart of defence and is at this moment in time Manchester United´s best centre half. I am confident that there is not a single person who could honestly and wholeheartedly say that they believed that was possible a year ago, or even a few months ago. He has been knocked to the ground countless times, many times because of his own errors and mistakes, but he has always got back up as a stronger player and person. To be criticised in the way he has, countless times, and still be able to in the end prove everyone wrong, requires a special kind of player. Most of all it shows that he is indeed a Manchester United player. Let´s make sure we do not let that slip away.


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