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Lindelof’s pedigree bodes well for United future

June 16, 2017 Tags: , , Opinion 4 comments
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This guy’s done nothing, absolutely nothing”, raged Ray Wilkins, lambasting Manchester United’s decision to sign a Swedish international who, at 22 years old, has more honours to his name than “Butch” amassed in his entire career. According to Wilkins, José Mourinho would have been better served by courting the services of Michael Keane, a player sold by United in 2015. The 24-year-old enjoyed an impressive campaign for Burnley last season but – much to Wilkins’ chagrin – United plumped instead to acquire the highly-rated Lindelöf for a fee of more than £30 million.


Wilkins’ scepticism of foreign imports is not a new phenomenon among some pundits, although Ray Parlour and the two Sky presenters seemed to squirm uncomfortably as he bemoaned United’s apparent ignorance of home-grown talent. In truth, Lindelöf has an impressive pedigree both for club and country, arriving from SL Benfica – a club synonymous with success in Portugal. He comes to Old Trafford much in the same way as Eric Bailly – much admired on the continent, but with little to no profile in England. Reds’ fans will hope that Mourinho has managed to unearth another defensive gem, much like he did with the Ivorian.

"Lindelöf has an impressive pedigree both for club and country. He comes to Old Trafford much admired on the continent, but with little to no profile in England."

Background

Born on 17 July 1994, Lindelöf joined his local side Vasteras SK in 2010, helping the team gain promotion in his first season. Attracting attention from continental Europe, Lindelöf made the switch to Benfica just over a year later where he initially plied his trade with the club’s U-19 squad, winning the league title in 2013. Lindelöf’s performances earned him a first team début later that same year, completing 90 minutes in a Portuguese Cup victory over CD Cinfaes. Despite a taste of top-flight football, the young Swede was made to wait before becoming a regular fixture in the senior side.


Victor Jörgen Nilsson Lindelöf


He made just under 100 appearances for both the Benfica youth and ‘B’ teams before becoming a fully fledged member of Jorgé Jesus’ side – making his league debut in a late season defeat to FC Porto in May 2014. Lindelöf took a place in the first-team squad at the beginning of the 2015/16 season, making 23 appearances and scoring once, however his campaign was hindered by injury problems that prevented him staking a regular claim.

It was at the beginning of last season that the imposing centre-back began to make his mark. Registering a joint second highest number of appearances with 47, Lindelöf was ever-present in an historic season for Aguias as the team swept to a record 36th league title, while also capturing the Portuguese Cup and Super Cup. He was named in the 2016 UEFA Champions League Breakthrough XI.

The young defender has also established himself at international level, representing Sweden from U-17 level through to being awarded a senior bow in 2016. In 2015, Lindelöf helped his U-21 teammates to a first-ever European Championship trophy, scoring the winning penalty as the Swedes overcame Portugal via a shoot-out in the final. The defender was also honoured with a place in UEFA’s team of the tournament.


Style

Standing at 6’2″ and possessing an imposing frame, Lindelöf certainly looks every inch the traditional centre-back – not least when his now short dark hair was shaven. But on the pitch, he is very much the idealists image of a modern defender. Aggressive, quick across the ground and with a knack for reading the game at vital moments, Lindelöf combines these fundamental defensive traits with composure, tidy feet and an eye for a pass. His technical prowess and all-round mobility allows him to deputise at right-back, as he did for Sweden’s U-21 Euro winning side.


Victor Jörgen Nilsson Lindelöf


On a purely statistical level, Lindelöf falls short of United’s existing centre-back options on number of tackles made and clearances per game, but this must be balanced against the fact that Benfica is a much more dominant outfit in Portugal than United is in England. The Portuguese champions conceded only 18 goals in 34 league games, losing just twice.

Lindelöf’s most crucial quality for United could be his ability on the ball. In Eric Bailly, Mourinho has his defensive destroyer, but he does not have a foil in the shape of someone more adept with the ball at his feet. Lindelöf averaged more than 60 passes per game at 90 per cent accuracy last season, and has shown the ability to cut through the lines into attacking areas. Some defenders enjoy a high pass completion by virtue of playing the ball side to side or short into midfield. Lindelöf has the ability and confidence to be a real asset to United on the ball in a creative sense, which is more than can be said of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones.

"Lindelöf has the ability and confidence to be a real asset to United on the ball in a creative sense, which is more than can be said of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones"

The real test for the young centre-back will be to step up to the kind of level expected at United. More experienced players have been unable to fill the jersey, and although the team is perhaps not the behemoth it once was, the pressure to succeed has not dissipated. Lindelöf’s time at Portugal’s most successful club should prepare him well for making the jump.

Making a strong first impression will also be key to his success. The nation’s media revel in piling pressure on foreign players who do not immediately excel in the much-hyped Premier League, and fans will hope that Lindelöf avoids falling into this trap. That is not to say that Ray Wilkins’ ramblings about Keane and his solitary year of Premier League experience holds any weight; pundits love to overstate the importance of “knowing the league”. There are plenty of players who know the league inside-out but it does not necessarily make them better footballers.


Victor Jörgen Nilsson Lindelöf


After all, Eric Bailly stepped into the United side from Villarreal last season and adapted with little fuss, and Lindelöf appears to possess a temperament and assuredness that will aid in his transition. Nicknamed “Iceman” by Benfica fans due to his immense composure, his goal must be to provide the kind of class at the back that has been missing since Rio Ferdinand’s departure. At 22, Lindelöf has time to grow into the role further and if he clicks with Bailly, the heart of United’s defence could be in good hands for years to come.

Rant Cast 308 – End of Season Review

June 13, 2017 Tags: Rant Cast 5 comments
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It has been three weeks in the making, but here it is – the final Rant Cast of the season. This week Ed & Paul look back on the past 10 months of football. The highs, the lows, the THREE trophies won. As always, there’s the much coveted (not at all coveted) RANT CAST AWARDS: Goal of the Season, Goalkeeper of the Season, Defender of the Season, Midfielder of the Season, Attacker of the Season, and Player of the Season. New this season: Shithousery of the Season!

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Mourinho’s summer strategy takes shape

June 12, 2017 Tags: , Opinion 11 comments
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One down, how many more to go? Victor Lindelöf’s impending arrival, for a fee reportedly in excess of £30 million, is the first of what manager José Mourinho hopes will be at least four summer signings. The quartet will address Manchester United’s most prominent challenges last season: goalscoring, creativity, consistency at the back, and bite in midfield. It is likely to be an expensive summer – and not necessarily one replete with household names if Lindelöf’s capture signals a sensibly pragmatic turn in United’s transfer strategy.

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Rant’s Premier Predictions 2016/17 revisited

June 7, 2017 Tags: Opinion 1 comment
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Each year Rant predicts the season ahead. Manchester United’s performance, the winners, the losers and the individual stars of the campaign. There have been very mixed results over the years. If you want, you can check out predictions and results from 2009 onwards here. The predictions are made without the mathematical models so in vogue and are thus little more than (ill)-educated guesses! Correct predictions in green, incorrect in red.

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Mourinho’s summer to do list

June 5, 2017 Tags: , , , , , Opinion 10 comments
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The dust has barely settled on Manchester United’s Europa League victory and already attention is turning towards next season. In some ways that is what the final against Ajax was all about – setting the tone for José Mourinho’s second campaign. United’s League Cup triumph, combined with the only trophy missing from the Old Trafford cabinet just about offset a mediocre sixth-place finish in the Premier League. It allows the manager to look ahead with a degree of security. So what now?

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Season review and ratings 2016/17

June 2, 2017 Tags: Opinion 12 comments
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Silverware! One, two, three – just like that new manager José Mourinho secured two major trophies and the season-opening Community Shield. Victory over Ajax in the Europa League final upgraded the campaign from disappointing to promising – and with it Mourinho secured just Manchester United’s fifth ever European trophy and passage through to next season’s Champions League. Yet, there’s no hiding the club’s poor finish in the league, and if there’s any measure that truly counts, it’s United’s performance against peers. There is much work to do and plenty of decisions to make over the summer.

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Europa League final preview: Ajax v United

May 24, 2017 Tags: , Matches 3 comments
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Manchester United takes on Ajax almost six years to the day since the Reds last European final – few could have predicted that the face of the club would have changed so dramatically in the intervening time. The Reds’ 3-1 “hiding”- as Sir Alex Ferguson put it – at the hands of Barcelona in 2011 marked the natural end of a successful period in the team’s history. Could another one begin in Stockholm on Wednesday night?

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Manchester United’s European Finals

May 24, 2017 Tags: , , Opinion 1 comment
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This season represents many things, some of which might be unrepeatable on these pages. For all the negative and frustrating moments over the past few months, it is also a season that represents another Manchester United attempt at lifting a European title. This Wednesday offers United a unique opportunity to add a trophy that, for better or worse, has eluded a burgeoning cabinet thus far. Europa League victory might well represent the ‘bare minimum’ this season, but would help José Mourinho achieve his season’s goal of returning to the Champions League.

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Everything you always wanted to know about Ajax

May 23, 2017 Tags: , Opinion 1 comment
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Wednesday’s Europa League final offers José Mourinho not only the opportunity to salvage Manchester United’s season, but a route back into the Champions League. After four seasons of failure, United cannot afford to miss out on the continent’s élite competition once again. It’s a task easier said than done of course. Mourinho’s side was some way short of making it through the Premier League. So all eyes on Stockholm this week. The opponents: Ajax, a vibrant and youthful side ready to make the step to the next level.

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Rant Cast 307 – Europa League Final Preview

May 22, 2017 Tags: , Rant Cast 1 comment
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This week’s Rant Cast focuses on one thing: the Europa League final. Much like the team, Ed & Paul have been phoning in recent shows in order to ensure full fitness for this special length preview of Wednesday’s game. The pod also includes an interview with Dutch football pundit Michiel Jongsma.

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