Manchester United are targeting a new centre back this summer, but the £31.5 million ($42m) signing from Benfica, Victor Lindelof, has proven his quality in Sweden’s colours ahead of a quarter-final match against England.
The 23-year-old may be on the verge of being replaced but Jose Mourinho might want to think twice as he watches his defender play, while working for the television station Russia Today (RT).
Sweden’s success in Russia has been built on the basis of a solid defence, with Lindelof completing 90 minutes all but his side’s first game against South Korea, which he missed through illness.
Janne Andersson’s side have kept three clean sheets in four games, having only failed to shut out Germany, despite taking them all the way until a last minute Toni Kroos free-kick denied them a point in a 2-1 defeat. Andersson has used team spirit and a deep defensive line to fashion one of the most fearsome defences at the World Cup.
The work rate is combined with knowing their limitations. Sweden defend deep, looking to the wings as they hit teams on the break. Their whole squad is a key part of their defensive unit with their main striker Marcus Berg playing close to the line, which is shown by the fact he had made more fouls than any other player after the last 16 matches.
In the absence of Zlatan Ibrahimovic, defence has been the focus, with the record extending to 10 clean sheets in their last 16 games. And they’ve needed to be at their best defensively as Sweden has only been able to keep possession for 38 per cent of their matches so far.
Lindelof’s contribution has varied from game-to-game with his best display coming against Mexico. Against El Tri he managed a team high of seven clearances, while also winning 80% of his duels. He was impressive against Switzerland too.
Mourinho may still point to how Lindelof was shaken under the pressure of Germany, with the World Cup’s top scorer in Harry Kane ready to provide him with another big test.
He might also say how it isn’t Lindelof but Andreas Granqvist who has been Sweden’s star defender in Russia. The experienced Sweden captain has lead the way for his team, by taking the armband and producing top class displays.
Manchester United have needed Lindelof to show more in order to prove they can rely upon him in big matches, but his national team manager came to his defence when asked about him ahead of his quarter-final game.
“He and Andreas [Granqvist] have played together of course, they’ve been the centre back partnership,” Andersson said when asked by Goal. “Granvist is also the future but perhaps not to the same extent.
“Victor put in great performances for the national team, he had a great first season in England [while needing] to adapt, he’s performed brilliantly in national colours so we have many good years to look forward to and possibly with Granqvist as well.”
Against England, Lindelof can be sure that all the necessary eyes at Manchester United will be on him as his team go beyond expectations at the showpiece event.
Lindelof is Sweden’s only player at an elite club and he is fighting to remain there, but on the showing of this World Cup, he may have given Mourinho one or two things to think about.