Manchester United’s incoming move for Raphael Varane has a chance to take the team’s defence to a whole new level.
Varane will partner Harry Maguire in central defence, moving Victor Lindelof out of the starting line-up.
This will be a new situation for Lindelof. After a rocky start at Old Trafford following his £31 million transfer from Benfica in 2017, Lindelof has established himself as a regular starter.
Last season Lindelof made 29 Premier League starts, 35 the year prior, and 29 the year before that.
Varane meanwhile has started more than 30 league games for Real in the last three consecutive seasons, so something has to give, with captain Harry Maguire a locked in starter who had not missed a league game in two seasons prior to his injury.
How will starts break down?
Lindelof has the benefit of Premier League experience, which will help his cause. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has always favoured him over Eric Bailly. The Swede is unlikely to be entirely discarded.
But if there is one thing Solskjaer has shown in his faith of Lindelof over Bailly, it is that he values the benefit of consistency in helping to forge a solid partnership.
So Varane and Maguire will be given plenty of time to establish themselves, and so long as it is working, Solskjaer won’t break it up.
Cup games will sustain Lindelof with some games, but in the case of the Champions League, Solskjaer will want Maguire and Varane as his preferred option.
Lindelof showed for Sweden at Euro 2020 that he is very capable, and he has had his moments where he has performed very well for United. In wins away at City and AC Milan earlier this year he was outstanding.
It is in games against ‘lesser’ opposition in which Lindelof has struggled. Teams which employ a more physical approach have enjoyed some success against the Swede. Varane will not be so easy to take advantage of.
2006 all over again?
Lindelof is a fine player. He has been a 7/10 at United so far. But United have taken the decision they want better.
It is reminiscent of Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to bring in Nemanja Vidic in 2006.
At the time Wes Brown was playing some of the best football of his career at centre-back alongside Rio Ferdinand. It seemed a little harsh on Brown to bring in a replacement. But the great boss knew he was not the long-term answer. Sir Alex’s judgement proved shrewd on this occasion.
Vidic and Ferdinand established themselves as one of Europe’s top defensive partnerships, taking the team to a new level.
Brown went onto carve out a role at right-back, where he had previously made his name. There is no such obvious route for Lindelof, although he can fill in at full-back in an emergency.
There are a couple of tactical tweaks United can make to benefit Lindelof. Solskjaer could revert to using three at the back. This is likely to happen at some stage, with Solskjaer using the formation in big games previously. A trio of Lindelof, Maguire, and Varane could prove formiddable, providing it suits the rest of the team.
It is possible United could experiment with Lindelof in defensive midfield. He has played there before for Benfica. But this is not an ideal solution. Far better for United to sign a tried and tested player in the position at the top level.
Solskjaer has been ruthless in replacing the Swede, and he deserves credit for doing so. It is the type of decision Sir Alex made. But Lindelof can still have a part to play next season, and he needs to respond well to the challenge. With the pressure off, he may even thrive and play at a very high level when he is called upon.
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