Jose Mourinho took Victor Lindelof out of the spotlight after a spotty start to his Man United career, but the center back is starting to prove his worth for Manchester United at last.
There was a moment early in Nemanja Vidic's Manchester United career in which the Serbian showed the full extent of his defensive prowess with a perfectly timed yet still crunching challenge during a game against Arsenal at Old Trafford.
An unknown when he arrived for just £7 million from Spartak Moscow, Vidic had been at the club for just three months at the time and his aggressive 'ball and all tackle' on the halfway line regained possession for his team and directly led to Wayne Rooney scoring the first goal in a 2-0 win.
That single moment did no end of good for Vidic's confidence so soon after arriving in an alien league and culture. During his Old Trafford career, he won 10 major honors and ultimately went on to become only United's second ever non-British/Irish captain after Eric Cantona.
The similar 'ball and all' tackle that Victor Lindelof made against Brighton a couple of weeks ago conjured those old images of Vidic. It didn't directly lead to a United goal, but it did illicit a positive vocal response from the stands all around Old Trafford and it wasn't too long before the decisive goal did actually come.
Lindelof himself carried that confidence boost for the rest of the game, earning himself the club's Man of the Match award. He had already played 90 minutes in the 4-1 win over Newcastle a week earlier, and kept his place for a third successive Premier League against Watford.
In that game at Vicarage Road, Lindelof was once more outstanding. His decision making, movement, marking and reading of the game were all sound, further adding to his rapidly growing confidence and knocking down the critics who had already started to write him off.
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Lindelof kept his place for the 3-1 win against Arsenal at the weekend. And although United gave up chances, he continued his good run of fine and improving form to cement his claim for a regular role even after the likes of Phil Jones and Eric Bailly have returned in the coming weeks.
Despite Jose Mourinho's insistence that patience and time was key, fans and critics seemed to expect too much from Lindelof following his £31 million move from Benfica. He perhaps wasn't helped by the fact that the similarly aged Bailly had so seamlessly made the transition when he joined from Villarreal 12 months earlier, but Lindelof's price tag alone brought huge pressure.
The 23-year-old had struggled during preseason, looking off the pace and/or out of position on a number of occasions in the few friendlies that he played. It was more of the same in the UEFA Super Cup against Real Madrid in Macedonia, a game United lost.
Clearly in need of time to adapt, Mourinho took Lindelof out of the spotlight. He was subsequently left out United's matchday squad for the opening Premier League game of the season against West Ham. A position on the bench came the following week, but Lindelof was again overlooked completely for the next five Premier League fixtures. Meanwhile, he started Champions League games, a more gentle jump after being used to Portuguese football.
Lindelof eventually made his Premier League debut as a last minute substitute in the 0-0 draw with Liverpool at Anfield on Oct. 14. A week later, an injury to Phil Jones in the first half at Huddersfield left Mourinho with little option but to throw Lindelof into the fire. He came out badly burned, with mistakes costing United the game and leading to a first league defeat of the season.
Those eager to criticize were already thinking it after he had barely featured, but it was at that point that the word 'flop' began to get more of an airing. Was United's £31 million center back a dud? The answer to that question is almost certainly 'no,' as Lindelof is now showing the kind of intelligent ability that led United to pay that much for him in the first place and drew comparisons with former United star and ex-Vidic partner, Rio Ferdinand.
All he needed was a platform on which to find his footing and start performing.
An important catalyst seems to have been his success with the Sweden national team in qualifying for next summer's World Cup at the expense of Italy in November. Lindelof played both legs of the UEFA playoff tie and was part of a monumental defensive effort from the Swedes to keep Italy at bay for 180 minutes across the two games, enough for a single Swedish goal from little known midfielder Jakob Johansson to win the tie.
Those two games were the important break he needed after the Huddersfield disaster, his subsequent omission from the matchday squads and the growing criticism from fans and journalists alike. With Sweden he was able to away from the intense pressure of the Premier League and it almost acted like a fresh start, allowing him to begin his season again.
The confidence is now flowing and Lindelof is only looking ahead.