The red jersey of Manchester United is weighing heavy on Victor Lindelof but yellow is more his colour. Just ask the Italians.
Lindelof is heading to the World Cup with Sweden, where he will spearhead a defensive unit that frustrated France, Bulgaria, Netherlands and Italy over a two-leg play-off en route to the finals. It was a qualification campaign that not many Swedes saw coming.
A record of seven clean sheets in their 12 matches, including keeping the Azzurri out in their two-legged play-off victory – that was dubbed back in Sweden as the “Miracle in Milan” – identifies just where the strengths of this Swedish team lie in the post-Zlatan Ibrahimovic era.
“Big nations are aware that Sweden never give up,” former Manchester United youngster and current Swedish TV pundit Bojan Djordjic told Sky Sports.
“We’re not a big country but having organisation, team spirit and a bit of quality, even without Zlatan, can take you far.”
Despite the Manchester United link, Lindelof is not the Zlatan of this Swedish side. That’s the point. There are no Zlatans.
The system installed Janne Anderssonndersson – an unspectacular yet effective 4-4-2 – brings the best out of every single individual when they put their yellow jersey on. The quality comes through reported Arsenal target Emil Forsberg, whose movement off the left-wing into dangerous areas made him almost unplayable against Italy in Sweden’s 1-0 first-leg victory.
But it is down the other end where Sweden’s strengths lie, which may come as a surprPremier Leagueemier League followers, based on Lindelof’s lack of involvement at United this season.
Lindelof, who joined from Benfica last summer for £31.5million, has yet to hit the heights of his compatriot Ibrahimovic at Old Trafford. He only made 13 starts in the Premier League and struggled for consistency.
However, Sweden skipper Andreas Granqvist and Lindelof will be a centre-back partnership to be feared and respected when Germany, Mexico and South Korea play the Swedes in their respective Group F encounters at the World Cup.
Lindelof: United v Sweden stats
|United (PL)||Sweden (WCQ)|
Djordjic knows Lindelof well and the pair have plenty in common in terms of their football upbringing. As a youngster, Djordjic – like Lindelof – rose quickly through the ranks in Sweden, which saw United come calling.
DesDjordjic cblank”">Djordjic could not quite break through to the first team and after a career that took him via Plymouth, Blackpool and Red Star Belgrade, the articulate Swede now makes his living analysing the game, paying close attention to his fellow countryman around Europe.
“Against Italy, Victor was immense – I was hoping people in England would have spoken about those games because he performed on the biggest stage home and away against Italy,” he said.
“He was enduring a tough period at United but went out and performed for his country in two huge games.
“That shows me he’s mentally strong – he can brush everything away and do things right.
“We didn’t concede a goal against Italy with him and Granqvist at the back.
“He’s only 23 years old – the pressure you have on you as a Manchester United player is totally different to what players are used to.”
That pressure intensified on October 21 last year – a day that has unfortunately defined Lindelof’s spell at United thus far.
Having replaced Phil Jones on 23 minutes against Huddersfield – on just his second Premier League appearance – he made two chastening errors which led to two goals. United lost the game 2-1, their first defeat of the season.