It has been a strange season at the back for Manchester United. Harry Maguire has seen his star wane even further. Now, he is arguably the fifth-choice centre back, with Luke Shaw being used in the middle of the back four ahead of him on occasion. The recent form of Victor Lindelof has been an unexpected bonus for Erik ten Hag. The Swede has been on the periphery this season, but he has been a standout in the last few weeks. It now looks like he has a longer-term future at Old Trafford.
This summer, there could be more investment into the squad and another centre back may be targeted. However, it will be Maguire that the club want to move on, not Lindelof.
Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez have been the first choice pairing for ten Hag. It is understandable, due to the money that the spent on both players. There is a nice balance between the pair. However, there have been niggling injuries for the former and it is important that there is a quality back-up in the squad.
Lindelof has certainly proven himself to be that. He has started in eight Premier League matches and the team have kept clean sheets in five of those. It is a very good record and underlines the value he has.
At the weekend, he was very good against Aston Villa and played a big role in the three points. His clearance off the line from a Douglas Luiz strike was a highlight. Lindelof reads the game effectively and his confidence seems to be increasing. He is one of the squad players that has improved under ten Hag and that added value from coaching is invaluable.
The Aston Villa game showed why Lindelof fits into the Manchester United system. His reading of the game allowed him to take up the correct positions defensively, as shown by four clearances. No Manchester United player made more.
Ten Hag is a coach that likes his centre backs to build from the back. That has been one of the key reasons why Martinez was signed from Ajax. He was already accustomed to the head coach’s style of play. Lindelof showed he can be trusted with the ball, with a pass success rate of 97% from a total of 65 passes.
Manchester United supporters also praised Lindelof for his huge contribution in the FA Cup semi-final win over Brighton. There is a case to be made that he has been the best defender in the team over the last week.
It is a small sample size, but there were fears that the team could fall away without their starting centre-back pairing. Two clean sheets from three matches show that the Shaw/Lindelof pairing can cover effectively.
If there were any doubts about Lindelof’s short term future, those have now been cast aside. The injuries to Varane and Martinez have been a blessing in disguise, as they provided a chance for the Swedish centre back to prove his worth. Ten Hag and the supporters will be keen to retain his services this summer.