Mourinho to bring Lindelof in from the cold for Basel test
Manchester Utd v Basel, live, TV3, 7.45
Invited to praise the performances of new signings Romelu Lukaku and Nemanja Matic in the immediate aftermath of Manchester United's opening-day demolition of West Ham United, it seemed telling that Henrikh Mkhitaryan should make a point of mentioning the club's other summer recruit, who was conspicuous only by his absence.
Mkhitaryan knows better than anyone how it feels to be Victor Lindelof right now. The Armenia midfielder was placed largely in cold storage by Jose Mourinho during his first few months at Old Trafford and the United manager has opted for a similar approach with Lindelof as he gives the Sweden centre-half time to adjust to the demands of English football.
Lindelof has not been seen in a United shirt since a bruising competitive debut against Real Madrid in the European Super Cup defeat more than a month ago, an experience not entirely dissimilar to Mkhitaryan's chastening first start for the club at home to Manchester City 11 months earlier, when he was hooked at half-time and not seen again for eight weeks.
But United's return to the Champions League tonight will also mark the return of Lindelof, who will line up in central defence against Basel beside another forgotten man in Chris Smalling owing to the suspensions of Eric Bailly and Phil Jones.
Mourinho made a point yesterday of saying he would probably have opted to start with Lindelof and Smalling even if Bailly and Jones had been available.
"I don't think Bailly and Jones are better than them, I think they are the same level but just different players," he said. "I play them and for me it's exactly the same as playing Bailly and Jones."
That is not quite true, or at least not at this moment anyway, but it was easy to understand Mourinho's desire to build up the confidence of two players who have been seldom seen of late.
Smalling will have his own point to prove after a summer in which he might have left Old Trafford had fellow England defender Michael Keane joined United in addition to Lindelof, but it is a bigger night for the Swede as he bids to get his feet under the table following that £30.7m (€34m) move from Benfica. There was no hiding place against Real, when Steven Gerrard and Michael Owen criticised his lack of awareness in the lead-up to both of the European champions' goals.
He was sluggish that night, but it is easy to forget he is still only 23. Lindelof and his girlfriend, Maja Nilsson, are friends with compatriot John Guidetti and the former Manchester City striker's partner, Sanna Dahlstrom, and picked the couple's brains about Manchester when they got together recently in the city. Although they have since found a house, Lindelof and Nilsson spent the first month living a few corridors away from Mourinho at the Lowry Hotel.
Whether there were many conversations between player and manager over dinner is unclear, but Mourinho has high hopes for Lindelof. "I think it's easier for him to play Champions League, it's more comparable to football in Portugal," Mourinho said. "But he needs a bit more time to adapt to the Premier League. He's an intelligent kid, very bright, very calm, he knows step by step he is going to be there. There is reason for Eric and Phil to be worried because he is a very good player." (© Daily Telegraph, London)