Chelsea, who will be lining up under Antonio Conte this season, are desperate to bring in quality reinforcements for their defence especially with the long term injury suffered by Kurt Zouma last season. Also, John Terry is no spring chicken anymore and Papy Djilobodji has looked a misfit. Benfica’s highly rated defender Victor Lindelof is rumoured to be one of Conte’s priority targets for the upcoming EPL season.
The 22-year-old Swede is a part of Benfica’s promising group of youngsters and has already made his debut for the Swedish national team. We analyse why a top manager like Antonio Conte is after an unproven Lindelof who made only 15 appearances for Benfica last season.
Hailing from the Swedish city of Vasteras, Lindelof played for the youth teams of numerous clubs like Vasteras IK, Vasteras SK and IK Franke before moving to Benfica in 2011. He made his debut for the Portuguese team in October 2013 in a Portuguese Cup game.
Lindelof got an unlikely call-up to the Swedish U-21 team after an injury forced Emil Krafth out of the U21 World Cup in 2015. He grabbed his chance to shine with both hands and played a stellar role as Sweden won the tournament. He scored the decisive spot-kick in the penalty shootout in the final against Portugal. It certainly made his coaches back in Benfica to sit up and take note.
Though he did not see much first team action in the first half of the 2015-16 season, he got his breakthrough in February this year. He became a solid member of Benfica’s defence, playing 15 consecutive games (14 wins, 1 loss), keeping seven clean sheets and conceding just nine goals.
He was also called up to Sweden’s senior team in March 2016 and made his debut in a loss against Turkey. Lindelof was included in Sweden’s Euro 2016 squad and went on to start in all 3 group matches, highlighting his growing stature as a top defender.
One of the biggest strengths of Lindelof is that he is versatile. He can play as a centre-back as well as a defensive midfielder – he can slot seamlessly into both positions. A welcome trait for someone like Conte who favours fluid formations.
The Swede is also a very aggressive defender who does not give an inch if it comes to a battle. Helping him maintain this facet of the game is his acceleration. He can get off the blocks very quickly and often opts to attack the forward rather than waiting for him to make his move and react.
He has an abundance of stamina and pace, which come to his aid in situations where needs to recover and make last ditch tackles. In short, Victor Lindelof is your proper hardline defender who fights for every yard on the field.
The young defender would do well to improve his decision-making skills. In spite of his impressive recovery skills, he will come across situations where he needs to hold back instead off flying into every challenge he sees as he plays in top leagues like the English Premier League. But being only 22, he is bound to learn more as he keeps playing and gain vital experience.
Though he is highly rated by his coaches at both club and international level, the fact is that he has played only about 360 minutes in the Portuguese League last season. Though the inexperience can be overcome as he plays more, the concern would be on whether he will be able to adapt to a higher league. Considering that he is relatively unproven, there will be doubts on whether Lindelof will be able to keep his levels of performances up throughout a season.
Victor Lindelof made a huge impact by breaking into Benfica’s first-team squad in the latter half of the last season that his manager Rui Vitoria had no choice but to admit that it created a headache for him in terms of selection. He remarked, “I want to say that Lindelof has done a fantastic job. He has put in very good performances. I want to play all my defenders but need to praise the work that Lindelof has done.” It is precisely that hard work that has seen him linked with one of Europe’s elite clubs.
But it remains to be seen whether Lindelof can break into Conte’s first team, chances of which happening are small. So he might need to spend some time in the reserves before he gets his chance. His dilemma would be whether to make that move or continue his development at Benfica, where he will be a starter and can also gain experience playing in the Champions League. After all, he has a contract till 2020 at the Estadio da Luz.
On the other hand, if he does sign for Chelsea he will learn a lot playing under a master tactician in Conte which will hold him in good stead. Again, if he shows the determination that helped him break through at Benfica, he should be able to replicate it at Chelsea too.Published 24 Jul 2016, 18:31 IST