It’s just under three weeks before the transfer window shuts and for all, I can remember this summer, United have been linked with a centre-back. Names from Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld to Milan’s Bonucci to Napoli’s Koulibaly have been mentioned but really do we need to break the bank on another centre-back after getting a very solid player in Victor Lindelof last summer?
Lindelof had a torrid start to his Manchester United career last season after becoming the most expensive defender the club have ever signed, but it cannot be denied that he grew into that famous red shirt as the season wore on. If anything, the recently concluded FIFA World Cup showed that the Swedish international was ready to make the step up and become a starter at Old Trafford. Lindelof had incredible performances each time he stepped onto the field.
Lindelof has age on his side, unlike reported target Toby Alderweireld who will be on the wrong side of 30 before the coming season ends. There is every chance for Lindelof to grow into an exceptional modern defender and here’s why he should be a de facto starter for United this season:
A defender in the modern game should be adept at not just making a hard crunching tackle to win a 50-50 and deal with the attack of the opposition. He has to be the first attacker and the last defender as Pep Guardiola’s football has shown. Ball playing defenders are a premium in this highly inflated market. Just look at the money the likes of Virgil van Dijk, John Stones and Aymeric Laporte went for.
Lindelof had a pass completion rate of 91% in the last Premier League season, a mark that is at the top among United centre backs and right up there with other Premier League players. Lindelof’s forward passes account for 75% of his successful passes. This points to a mentality of the Manchester United of old – win the ball back and hit the opposition quickly when they’re most vulnerable. Honestly, I am sick of the sight of Chris Smalling line up a pass, suffer a convulsion before the pass and then give the ball away to the opposition.
WINNING THE BALL
Despite the change in the demands made of a centre back, their prime job remains to win the ball back for the team. Victor Lindelof admittedly has an inferior comparison with his fellow United defenders in this respect, but very surprisingly he has a better percentage of duels won than Alderweireld.
Looking at Lindelof, you probably would not see him as a player with a good heading ability. But he has won more aerial duels than Alderweireld per 90 minutes last season. That results in a favourable aerial duel win percentage for Lindelof. (45% to just 34%) Lindelof also edged the Spurs’ man in total duels win percentage too (47% to 37%). That number for Lindelof was bumped up to 63% at the World Cup.
INTERCEPTIONS, CLEARANCES AND BLOCKS
Victor Lindelof again edges Toby Alderweireld when it comes down making interceptions, clearances and throwing his body between the ball and goal. Lindelof makes 4.82 clearances, 0.72 blocks and 0.79 interceptions per 90 minutes in the last Premier League season. Compare that with Alderweireld now: 4.09 clearances, 0.40 blocks and 0.32 interceptions. Even in the World Cup, Lindelof edged Alderweireld in these statistics.
Lindelof’s positional awareness during the World Cup really caught my eye. Very rarely was he in the wrong position when defending. He did an admirable job in marshalling the defence and often was tasked with initiating counter attacks for Sweden during the World Cup. They did that very well over the course of the World Cup especially during the games vs Germany and Switzerland. Lindelof did his role to the ‘T’.
While we cannot, emphasis on cannot, start with the chuckle brothers Jones and Smalling in the centre of defence, we don’t really need to sign a new centre-back this season should Eric Bailly manage to stay fit. Lindelof is the best passer at the back we’ve got and at his age, he is only going to get better. While I am all for bringing in Toby Alderweireld at United, we would not do really badly with Victor Lindelof in the XI either.