Manchester United have had their fair share of defensive difficulties, experimenting with endless centre back combinations since the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement from football management way back in 2010.
None of his replacements have been able replicate the glory years under the Scotsman. David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and even ‘the Special One’ Jose Mourinho all failed during their tenures, and the defence played a key part in their downfalls.
Hopes were high following the signatures of promising English talents Phil Jones and Chris Smalling from Blackburn and Fulham respectively, but neither have lived up to expectation, consistently producing shaky performances in the heart of the defence.
Eric Bailly, bought from Villarreal in 2016, has shown his ability in spells but can’t be relied upon due to his constant injury woes, while youngster Axel Tuanzebe is still some way off becoming a regular face in the starting lineup.
But United look like they might have finally found the answer since signing Victor Lindelof from Benfica for €35m in 2017.
The 25-year-old didn’t exactly set the world alight upon making the move to Old Trafford, initially drifting in and out of the first team.
But since settling into his new home, the Sweden international is the only defender to show any sort of consistency, establishing himself as a regular, particularly under new head coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
It’s almost certain that we’re yet to see the best of the former Benfica man, but that’s arguably due to no fault of his own.
When it comes to central defenders, it’s so often the case that you’re only as good as the defender playing alongside you, and that’s been evident when Lindelof has partnered Jones or Smalling, who clearly haven’t been strong enough for some time now.
That’s what could make the record signing of Harry Maguire all the more crucial, not just this season, but for years to come.
The ex-Leicester centre half signed for Manchester United for £80m towards the end of the transfer window this summer, outdoing the £75m fierce rivals Liverpool wisely spent on recent PFA Player of the Year Virgil van Dijk.
Maguire’s arrival looks like it’s had an immediate impact, with United appearing fairly solid at the back during their 4-0 thrashing of Chelsea on the opening day of the 2019/20 Premier League campaign.
Like his new partner, Lindelof is composed with the ball at his feet and capable of playing out from the back, qualities which are essential to any modern defender given how many sides like to press and steal possession high up the pitch.
Neither of them are blessed with buckets of pace but good positioning is also an essential skill they both already possess, and one that will only improve the more they play alongside each other.
And establishing that consistent partnership is vital to the long term success of not just the defence, but for the side in its entirety as they look to compete with neighbours Manchester City and Liverpool in the coming years.
Extending Lindelof’s contract isn’t exactly urgent, with the deal expiring in the summer of 2021, but the club should certainly consider tying him down to a new deal sooner rather than later, creating some assurance that he and Maguire will be the first choice pairing for years to come.
It’s about time the Red Devils formed their first solid back line since the Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand days, and signing Lindelof to a new contract would play a significant role in that finally happening.