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Lindelof now enjoying a strange renaissance at Old Trafford


Victor Lindelof in action during Manchester United’s training session alongside
team-mate Juan Mata. Photo: Getty Images

Victor Lindelof in action during Manchester United’s training session alongside team-mate Juan Mata. Photo: Getty Images

Man Utd via Getty Images

Victor Lindelof in action during Manchester United’s training session alongside team-mate Juan Mata. Photo: Getty Images

It was a nip-and-tuck affair the last time Brighton and Hove Albion visited Old Trafford in the Premier League 15 months ago, a game that, in Ashley Young's opinion, swung on one moment in the 55th minute.

Victor Lindelof's Manchester United career to that point had been bookmarked by errors, equivocation and increasing questions about his suitability following a £31m move from Benfica, a club-record fee for a defender.

But a crunching 50-50 challenge on Anthony Knockaert, from which he won the ball fairly yet with such force that the Brighton winger was left in a shell-shocked heap, instantly forced the Old Trafford crowd to stand up and take notice.

Eleven minutes later, United had broken the deadlock.

"Everyone in the stadium went, 'Wow, where did that come from?'" Gary Pallister, the former United centre-back, reflected this week.

"They weren't used to seeing that from Victor. As much as tackling has changed an awful lot, you've still got to hold your own, you've still got to be physical in the Premier League and that showed he was getting an understanding of what it was all about."

It would be overstating things to call it a turning point for Lindelof at Old Trafford.

His teething troubles would not end there and then - Brighton beat United 3-2 in August, when Lindelof struggled - and, even now, he has a way to go to convince his doubters.


Yet that tougher side to the Sweden defender's character has become much more visible in recent weeks and, as United prepare to welcome Brighton back to Old Trafford today, a less-heralded footnote of the team's dramatic resurgence under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been Lindelof's growing stature.

"As a player, he's fairly complete," Patrik Andersson, the former Barcelona, Blackburn Rovers and Sweden defender, said.

"He's adaptable, two-footed, calm and comfortable on the ball and good one against one. I remember the game against Juventus in Turin in November when he did very well one-on-one against Cristiano Ronaldo.

"He has it in him but, as a defender, you need to be playing regularly, have confidence from your coach and a regular partner but, due to injuries and a lot of changes at the back at United, it's not been easy for him, and in his first year you could see the impact."

United's priority in the transfer market is to sign an imposing, high-quality centre-half - Napoli's Kalidou Koulibaly is a target - and no wonder, given how persistent injury problems to Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly and Marcos Rojo have robbed Lindelof of a regular partner.

His 28 league starts as a centre-back for United have involved seven central-defensive partnerships, either in a three or four-man defence, and Pallister, like Andersson, believes the Swede would benefit from someone dependable next to him.

Pallister formed one of the Premier League's great centre-half partnerships with Steve Bruce, but it did not happen overnight.

"I played a different way to Brucey and, at the start, he'd be running up like Tony Adams and going for offside and I'd be dropping back like I did at Middlesbrough," Pallister recalled.

"You look back to Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic, that was the go-to partnership, and I still don't think we know what the go-to partnership is now."

In that regard, Lindelof's progress of late is all the more impressive. The 24-year-old has not had the benefit of a Virgil van Dijk figure alongside him and yet, while he still needs to be more commanding dealing with high balls, quicker to smell danger and shut down space, the improvements are obvious.

He has become much more vocal. Marcus Rashford got an earful during the 2-0 win over Newcastle after failing to return a pass.

He is also far more robust physically and there is greater conviction to his distribution, which has been helped by the move to a more attack-minded approach under Solskjaer.

Off the pitch, too, Lindelof is settled. He married his partner, Maja Nilsson, shortly before the World Cup finals in Russia last summer, when he excelled for Sweden, and the couple are expecting their first baby.

Pallister is well-placed to talk about the difficulties that come with joining United for a record fee at a time of great turbulence.

Alex Ferguson was under huge pressure only a few months after Pallister's £2.3m move from Middlesbrough in August 1989 and the defender struggled early on. He sees parallels with Lindelof.

"It was a tough baptism for me and I think Victor went through that, too," Pallister said.

"When I arrived, the club hadn't won a title for 22 years, the manager had decimated the squad, brought in a host of new players and we didn't hit the ground running. The fans were calling for Fergie's head so when you're trying to cement your position amongst all that, and you've signed for a record transfer fee, it's hard.

"There have been people saying he's not up to it, the league's too physical for him, but you either melt and fade away or prove people wrong and that is what Victor has been doing."

Andersson is convinced Lindelof is a "future Sweden captain" in the making and others doubtless share that view.

Roland Nilsson, who spent eight years with Sheffield Wednesday and Coventry City, is now in charge of Sweden's U-21s having played 116 times for his country.


He can recall conversations with Sweden coach Janne Andersson about Lindelof's initial struggles yet there was always a quiet confidence he would emerge a stronger player for them.

"We discussed Victor, about why things were going in a certain way but, for me, it was only a matter of time before he started to do well at United in addition to the national team," Nilsson said.

Meanwhile, Manchester United remain in talks with Anthony Martial's representatives and are yet to reach an agreement over a new five-year contract.

United extended Martial's existing terms by 12 months until the summer of 2020 in December and it is understood that negotiations between the club and Martial's camp remain ongoing.

Martial appeared to have no future at Old Trafford under previous manager Jose Mourinho, who was willing to let the 23-year-old leave last summer.

© Daily Telegraph, London