Wednesday 29 November 2017

Lindelof finds his feet to put early struggles behind him

It's no secret that summer signing Victor Lindelof has endured early struggles since he arrived at United, but there are signs that the Swedish centre-back is starting to find his feet. 

He was voted as our Man of the Match during the weekend win over Brighton, and brought the Old Trafford crown to their feet for one bone-shaking - but fair - challenge on Seagulls winger Anthony Knockaert.

That seems to be have sparked something of a turnaround for Lindelof who turned in another impressive performance at the heart of the Reds three-man defence at Vicarage Road on Tuesday. 

A defence of an erratic Chris Smalling, a rusty Marcos Rojo (on his first start after seven months out) and a suspect Lindelof would not have filled many of the travelling Red Army with much confidence - particularly against a lively, vibrant and energetic Watford side.

But Lindelof confounded his critics with a calm, composed and confident showing and would probably have collected a second successive MOTM award, if not for the match-winning exploits of Ashley Young and Jesse Lingard. 

The young defender kept Watford's Brazilian forward Richarlison, one of the league's in-form players, in check throughout and then also did well when faced with the physical presence of Troy Deeney when he came on later in the match. 

The nadir of Lindelof's brief United career came in the shock defeat at Huddersfield last month, but he was rushed into the side when possibly unprepared after Phil Jones went off injured. The Reds were poor collectively as a squad and it would be unfair to pin the blame for the loss solely on the shoulders of a player new to the hustle and bustle of the Premier League.

Many players have struggled in their early days at the club, and have gone on to become United legends - Patrice Evra (who was subbed at half-time on his debut), Nemanja Vidic and David de Gea (both of whom underwhelmed to start with)  to name but three. All endured difficult first seasons at Old Trafford but later blossomed and developed into title winners and became the spine of Sir Alex's last great team. 

I'm not suggesting that Lindelof will ever become as key as those three - that will take some doing -  but he needed time to settle and has started to look far more like the cultured centre-back that impressed at Benfica last season and swayed Jose to sign him. 

One swallow does not make a summer, of course, but it's a positive upturn in fortunes for Lindelof, who had long been coveted by Jose before he made to switch from Benfica for £31m in the summer, and I'm pleased for a young player who had to take heavy criticism whilst trying to adapt to life in a league he's not used to. 

When a player comes with a hefty price tag, expectations are high - sometimes too high - and it seems Lindelof had been written off before he had the chance to prove himself.

But Jose rarely makes bad signings and again demonstrated good man management to stick with the Swede despite his patchy early form - and the absence of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly also enabled him to get a run of games under his belt and build some momentum and confidence. 

Lindelof looks set to keep his place until the Ivorian returns, and with Arsenal and City on the horizon, there will be tougher tests ahead for him and United. 

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