After failing to push through the transfer in January, Manchester United have finally got their man.
Victor Lindelof has put pen to paper with the Premier League giants after completing a £30.7million switch from Benfica on a four-year deal in a move which will significantly bolster their defence.
What will be interesting to see is how Jose Mourinho will fit Lindelof into his back-line.
In Chris Smalling, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, United already have five senior centre-backs while the likes of youngsters Alex Tuanzebe and Timothy Fosu-Mensah have also made fleeting appearances.
Here, we look at the top three central defensive partnerships at Mourinho’s disposal.
Presumably, this would be the ideal centre back pairing. Bailly arrived at Old Trafford last season as something of an unknown quantity but the former Villareal defender quickly justified his £30 million reported fee and United will be hoping Lindelof follows in his footsteps.
Both centre backs are blessed with great physiques and are naturally equipped to cope with the physicality of the Premier League. They’re also both good on the ball. In fact, Lindelof is third this season in terms of the most passes per game in the Portuguese league (62.2) while also boasting an 89.9% pass accuracy.
However, while he’s more reliable in possession, Bailly is more likely to play more penetrating forward passes, ones that most centre backs don’t attempt as often. The Ivorian’s aggressive attitude also comes to the fore in his defending.
If there’s one criticism of the 23-year-old’s play it’s that he can sometimes be too aggressive in a tackle and get pulled out of position trying to win the ball. Lindelof on the other hand is more composed, living up to his ‘Iceman’ nickname.
The two defenders could compliment each other very well and if they both stay fit and forge a good understanding. With Lindelof turning 23 next month as well, this partnership has the potential to be United’s first choice central defensive pairing for the next decade.
Partnering Bailly and Marcos Rojo makes for an explosive central defence. Both are aggressive in a tackle and like to stride forward with the ball. Rojo in particular never resists a pop at goal whenever he’s anywhere near the vicinity of what’s considered striking range.
Rojo can seem like a liability at times given his rather reckless approach but on the whole, he was one of United’s better defenders this season. While he’s maybe not the most adept at reading danger, he’s got the fight, athleticism and determination to recover. It’s that commitment that’s endeared him to Mourinho.
However, in Bailly and Rojo, the Portuguese has two proactive centre backs and that can backfire when the duo are fielded together.
Smalling enjoyed his best season in the 2015-16 campaign under Louis van Gaal but much of that could be put down to the tactics employed. While some accuse Mourinho of being defensive-minded, the Dutchman’s approach had United playing safe passes while the full-backs were discouraged from venturing forward.
Van Gaal’s tactics meant that the defence was afforded plenty of protection more often than not and that seemed to allow Smalling to flourish but the Englishman lost his way a bit in the past year. Nevertheless, when fit, he has managed to put in a few good performances and given his seniority, would be able partner for Lindelof in defence.
While Smalling is not as physically imposing as Bailly or as athletic, he does have a good turn of pace and is capable of carrying the ball out of defence. With the Ivorian struggling with a couple of injuries in his debut season in the Premier League, Smalling may well be the chief candidate to step in for him.
On the other hand, while Mourinho has shown a willingness to field young players, the prospect of him putting faith in two 23-year-olds to anchor his central defence in Lindelof and Bailly may be a bit optimistic.
As such, the more experienced Smalling may be the man to partner either one of the two on most occasions. The 27-year-old however would have to bring his A-game to ensure a starting berth. The Lindelof-Smalling pairing comes closest to the Lindelof-Bailly combo whilst adding a dash of experience.
Another one to benefit hugely from Van Gaal’s tactics. The Dutch defender’s lack of athleticism can leave him vulnerable to the demands of the Premier League which is why he’s fallen down the pecking order under Mourinho. However, his supreme footballing brain and versatility makes him an ideal utility player, valuable to any squad.
Staying fit is half the battle for the Englishman. The United seems to value Jones’ attitude and aggression but the 25-year-old is prone to errors at the back and never looks convincing with the ball at his feet. If Mourinho decides to sell a defender, the former Blackburn man could be the one to go.
The United manager has spoken highly of the youngster, talking him up as early as during preseason last year. He’s shone every time he’s been given the opportunity and particularly impressed against Arsenal towards the end of the season when he came up against Alexis Sanchez and kept the Chilean quiet.
The 19-year-old has been used in a variety of positions when he’s been brought on this season and Mourinho has seemingly been impressed. Barring a loan move for either him or Tuanzebe, the duo could see more playing time this season.
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Champions Chelsea will start their 2017/18 Premier League campaign at home to Burnley.
The new season’s fixtures which were announced on Wednesday morning saw Antonio Conte’s team given a Stamford Bridge opener on the weekend of August 12/13.
Runners-up Tottenham start away from home for the seventh successive season. The trip to newly-promoted Newcastle is a repeat of the 2012/13 opener, which the Magpies won 2-1.
Manchester United begin at home to West Ham, 2016 champions Leicester visit Arsenal, while Liverpool go to Watford.
Check out the most interesting facts about each of the opening day fixtures in the video below.
The first derby of the season is set to be a cracker – and we won’t have to wait long. Tottenham could hardly have been handed a tougher fixture for their first-ever Premier League clash at Wembley, with champions and fellow Londoners Chelsea set to visit on the second weekend of the season (August 19). Spurs will look at it as a chance to lay down a marker early in the season, with an opportunity to beat the side to whom they narrowly lost the title to last season.
The return fixture at Stamford Bridge will be on March 31, and could be pivotal in the title run-in.
October 14 will see the return of the fixture widely regarded as the biggest in English football, with Manchester United traveling to Anfield to face Liverpool. Last year’s corresponding fixture was a drab, 0-0 draw, but with both sides looking to establish themselves as genuine title challengers, hopefully this time they’ll serve up a better contest. Liverpool will travel to Old Trafford on March 10.
The first Premier League North London Derby at Wembley won’t be until February, but before that, Arsenal and Spurs will face off at the Emirates Stadium on November 18. The fixture will come right before a European week, but there’s absolutely no chance either side will rest players for the marquee clash.
Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola will have to wait until December to resume hostilities, with the first Manchester derby of the season scheduled for December 9 at the Etihad Stadium. The fixture is likely to yet again feature two of the most expensively-assembled squads in Premier League history, with Manchester City already having spent over £90 million this summer and set to spend more, while United are supposedly ready to spend £200 million to improve their squad.
Old Trafford will play host to the second Manchester derby of the season on April 7.
Arsenal will have a chance early on in the season to see if they’ve closed the gap on Chelsea, with a trip to Stamford Bridge on September 16. The return fixture will be eagerly awaited, as it falls on New Year’s Day. It should be an excellent way to kick-off 2018.
Liverpool and Everton clash first at Anfield in December, before the return fixture at Goodison Park in April.
TOP SIX CLASHES
With two Manchester and three London clubs in the top six, derbies and title-deciding clashes often coincide, but there are a few fixtures that will (hopefully) be all about the title race.
Manchester City’s title credentials will get a stern test early in the season, as they’re due to face Chelsea on September 30 at Stamford Bridge. Given how far behind City were of Chelsea by the end of last season, Pep Guardiola’s men will relish the chance to show the watching world that they’re more serious challengers this time around.
Manchester United were Tottenham’s final opponents at White Hart Lane, but the corresponding fixture at Wembley this season won’t come until the end of January, by which time we’ll know more about how strong the two sides’ title chances are.
And then there’s the small matter of Jose Mourinho taking on Chelsea. The former Blues manager brings United to Stamford Bridge in November with the chance to avenge last year’s 4-0 away loss, with the reverse fixture in February.