I would guess that many of you haven’t seen much of Lindelof (if anything) yet and I was much the same before the turn of the year but I’ve had some opportunities to watch him since he was linked with United in January. I’ll no doubt have something more interesting to say after I’ve developed a more thorough and comprehensive understanding of him as a player but there are already some aspects that have stood out in his game:
Technical Quality – Having played in midfield and at full back in the past his quality on the ball is obvious. He’s capable of accelerating past opposition pressure to establish attacking situations but the most striking feature about his game is his use of the long, diagonal pass. It’s a trait that we tend to associate with Alderweireld in England and it’s hugely useful in taking advantage of the opposition being loaded in a particular area of the pitch (or disorganised after losing the ball). It’s not just that he attempts these long passes – he’s excellent at them and has the confidence to regularly execute them to a high standard. In many respects we’ve missed Blind’s ability to get moves started from defence and Lindelof looks like he’ll really be able to make a huge contribution in this respect. His short passing is sharp and penetrative by a defender’s standards and he played 400 more passes than any other defender in the Portuguese league last season.
Covering – As United fans we probably tend to think that all defenders are either going to be a “Rio” or a “Vidic” and that all good partnerships are going to resemble theirs. It’s not always necessarily the case but in Bailly and Lindelof we may have a partnership that does have the potential to function in a broadly similar fashion. Bailly is a pure defender: he’s by no means bad with the ball but his standout feature is the fact that he defends extremely aggressively on the front foot and will happily throw his body into any situation. It can be slightly terrifying for everyone concerned but it’s generally been really effective and having only just turned 23, there’s still a lot of improvement to come from him.
On the other hand, Lindelof doesn’t win a huge amount of tackles by a typical centreback’s standards but that’s because, like Rio, he takes a considerably more measured approach to the game. He’s not a passive player by any means but he’s often had to play next to Luisao for Benfica, and anyone who’s seen Luisao will be able to tell you that mobility isn’t his thing. He wins aerial challenges, he gets his body in the way and either makes an aggressive challenge or commits a foul to make up for his lack of speed on the turn. With a defender like that you desperately need a teammate to be mindful of the space in behind and Lindelof has excelled in this regard.
It’d be crazy to label him as “the new Rio” as this early stage of his career and before he’s kicked a ball for United but that is the standard any defender here dreams of reaching, especially those who attempt to play the game in an intelligent way. Blind would be a fairer comparison at this stage but the new signing’s physical attributes should allow him to escape the doubts that sometimes follow the Dutchman around. He is stronger, faster and despite starting his career off as a midfielder, he is a far more natural centreback. It’s worth noting that he also has the potential to get the best out of Smalling, who has performed best in a red shirt next to Rio and Blind, but I fear time may be up for the man who joined from Fulham in 2010.