According to widespread reports, Manchester United are on the verge of completing a January move for Benfica defender Victor Lindelöf.
The 22-year-old Swede has impressed since breaking into the first-team at the Estádio da Luz last season, and is reportedly set for a £38 million switch to Old Trafford when the transfer window opens in January.
However, with the current form of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo at the heart of the United defence, and with Chris Smalling and Eric Bailly working their way back to full fitness, an new centre-back might not seem like a high priority for United.
So would Lindelöf come straight in and improve the starting XI? Or is he perhaps viewed as an acquisition to boost manager José Mourinho’s options?
To understand Lindelöf’s potential role within the squad, we must first understand his attributes and what he brings to the table that the Red Devils’ current defensive roster is unable to provide, while also assesing his areas of weakness.
- Passing - Every bit the moder-day centre-back, Lindelöf is excellent at bringing the ball out of defence and instigating attacks with accurate vertical passes. His 90 percent pass completion rate is better than Jones (89 percent) and Rojo (86 percent). Although Smalling and Bailly have demonstarated marginally better pass accuracy — both 91 percent — Lindelöf has made far more forward passes (661) than any United defender; Daley Blind is closest with 423 with an overall completion rate of 87 percent.
- Heading - Standing at 6ft 2ins, Lindelöf is physically equipped to deal with the rigours of the Premier League. Powerful in the air, he has won 60 percent of his aerial duels this season — a better average than Rojo (54.7 percent) and Bailly (50 percent), but behind Jones (70.8 percent) and Smalling (78.2 percent).
- Tackling - Lindelöf has won more tackles than any current United defender this season (13) but, having played more game time than his potential future colleagues, has a lower minutes-per-tackle ratio (96.9). This is perhaps more a reflection of the fact that the Swede is playing in the most dominant side in their respective division, and is therefore required to tackle less frequently. He is, however, superb when tackling in one-one-one situations, where his excellent concentration sees his eyes trained on the ball -- falling for none of the oncoming attacker’s faints and flicks — before exercising perfect timing to nick the ball and immediatley get his head up to look for a pass.
- Speed - Another attribute that is highly prized among modern defenders is pace. Gone are the days when centre-backs are the slowest players on the pitch. Lindelöf possesses tremendous recovery pace, which often enables him to recover to make a tackle or block when caught out of position.
- Versatility - Though predominantly a centre-back, Lindelöf is comfortable playing at right-back too. With United having played Antonio Valencia, a makeshift option, in this position in recent months, the option of playing Lindelöf there will be a welcome one.
- Inexperience - Although he made his Benfica debut back in 2013, Lindelöf has only been a regular feature of the Eagles’ line-up since the second half of last season, meaning he only has around a year’s experience of top-flight football in a major league. However, Eric Bailly, who arrived at Old Trafford with a similar amount of top-level exposure, has thrived in the Premier League, so Mourninho will be hoping the 11-cap Sweden international can do the same.
- Positioning - Lindelöf can occasionally be caught out of position when opposition attacking moves progress in wide areas, sometimes failing to put himself in the optimum position to defend a cross into the penalty area. This can lead to him being caught under the ball from time to time when a high cross is played into the box.
With Jones and Rojo performing well in the centre of defence lately, Mourinho may be reticent to upset the applecart to bring in a new face.
But Lindelöf’s ability on the ball and speed over the ground could potentially add a new dimension to United’s build-up play.