Fifty-five minutes into Manchester United’s 1-0 victory against Brighton & Hove Albion, central defender Victor Lindelof flew into a challenge with winger Anthony Knockaert. The always loud 3,000 travelling supporters were livid, accusing the Swede of being a “dirty” and “northern”. Vasteras, Lindelof’s hometown, is certainly north of Brighton and any other English city. It has an average November temperature of zero.
Lindelof ias not a player to be put off by the cold, nor Saturday’s heavy Mancunian rain, yet the tackle was a defining moment in an afternoon when Jose Mourinho’s men struggled to break down their promoted visitors. A previously flat stadium was roused and chants of "Attack! Attack!" echoed from the Stretford End. Lindelof, making only his second Premier League start, picked himself up and continued having a fine match.
Of United’s three summer signings, two made immediate, successful impacts. Midfielder Nemanja Matic was man of the match in his first game and quickly established himself as mainstay. Striker Romelu Lukaku scored seven goals in his first seven league games. Lindelof, who signed from Benfica for €30 million (Dh132m), has come under more scrutiny.
Lindelof deserves time to settle and at 23 he is not the fully formed defender yet, but injuries to Phil Jones and Eric Bailly meant he has started consecutive games. Prior to that, Lindelof had only appeared in the final minute of the 0-0 at Anfield and 67 minutes at Huddersfield Town when he replaced the stricken Jones. It didn’t go well and he was culpable for the first Huddersfield goal in a 2-1 defeat.
Widely criticised, Lindelof didn’t make the squad for United’s next two league games and he was also relegated to the bench for the next two Uefa Champions League matches when he had played in the opening three group games.
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Injuries brought him back into the fold and Lindelof played 90 minutes in last week’s 4-1 win against Newcastle United. No United player created more than the two chances of the ball-playing defender.
Lindelof also excelled as Sweden kept two clean sheets against Italy to advance to a first World Cup finals since 2006.
Against Brighton, he didn’t choose who he was marking, for Albion’s 34-year-old English centre-forward, Glenn Murray, targeted Lindelof. The Cumbrian target man, who rose through the divisions of English football, is difficult to play against, but Lindelof was up to the challenge, winning headers, intercepting and tackling. Fifteen minutes into the match, he moved into Brighton’s half to challenge the tricky Davy Propper with a proper challenge. He also recovered quickly enough to get back and challenge Murray.
Lindelof is confident and spoke boldly of his talents when he arrived at Old Trafford. He is assured on the pitch too, instructing, ordering and clapping when teammates do something well. He stays furthest back when his team have a corner or free kick, but frequently moved deep into Albion’s half to support his own team’s attack. He also moved to right-back when Antonio Valencia pushed forward.
Lindelof also tackled well, though Old Trafford and Mourinho roared with disapproval when a foul was given against him after a challenge on Murray after 36 minutes.
United did not play well and created little against Chris Houghton’s well organised side, so Lindelof’s compatriot Zlatan Ibrahimovic was introduced for Juan Mata after 61 minutes. The first attack was immediate when Lindelof played a long ball wide to Ashley Young, who crossed before the Brighton defence dealt with it. Young’s shot four minutes later deflected upwards off Lewis Dunk and into the Brighton goal. It was enough.
Murray went off after 73 minutes and Tomer Hemed moved straight on to Lindelof. Brighton threatened to equalise and Mourinho suspected that Shane Duffy would be a late handful, but United’s defence, protected by Matic, held firm for a 13th clean sheet in 20 games this season.
“It was a battle because Brighton was very good,” Mourinho said. As was Lindelof.