Is Jose Mourinho doing to Victor Lindelof what he did to Henrikh Mkhitaryan?

Graham Ruthven
Lindelof

Jose Mourinho tends to wear a suit for the first few matches of the season. He did it last season, turning up to Manchester United’s opening fixture against Bournemouth in full formal wear. Soon enough, however, he resorted to a tracksuit as the Old Trafford side fell away over the course of the campaign. His attire is an indicator of his own personal engagement. This season, though, the suit is back on and going on United’s first two displays it might stay on a while longer.

Indeed, Mourinho’s side have started the 2017/18 Premier League season on the front foot, notching back-to-back 4-0 wins over West Ham and Swansea City. Man Utd, for the first time since the days of Sir Alex Ferguson, look sure of themselves, liberated by the signings made over the summer.

Romelu Lukaku has slotted in seamlessly, scoring four goals in his first three competitive games for his new club. The signing of Nemanja Matic from Chelsea already looks a similarly significant one, with the Serbian giving the likes of Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan the platform and freedom needed to unleash them further up the pitch. It’s been a different tale for United’s third summer signing, though.

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After a less than surefooted performance in the European Super Cup defeat to Real Madrid, Victor Lindelof has found himself on the bench for United’s opening two league games. Bought for £31 million from Benfica following a long-term pursuit, the Swede was seen as the solution to Mourinho’s centre back problems. Alongside Eric Bailly, it was envisaged he would strike up quite the partnership. That hasn’t yet materialised.

It hasn’t helped the Swede’s cause that in the two games he has missed, United have kept successive clean sheets. Of course, in time they will face greater challenges to their defensive prowess than West Ham and Swansea can offer, Phil Jones has already laid down a marker as Man Utd’s second centre back alongside Bailly. It could prove tough to shift him.

All is not lost for Lindelof, though. He should speaks to Mkhitaryan about his experiences in the early part of last season. The Armenian also found himself benched after a big-money summer switch to Old Trafford, with some even questioning whether he would suffer a similar fate to Shinji Kagawa, the last Borussia Dortmund playmaker to fail to fulfil his potential in England.

Now, Mkhitaryan is considered Man Utd’s difference-maker in-chief. The Armenian had contributed four assists in the opening two Premier League games of the season, also shining in last season’s Europa League as United secured their place in the Champions League for this season. Mkhitaryan has become central to what Mourinho is building at Old Trafford.

Without the forced induction imposed on him by Mourinho, Mkhitaryan might have been overwhelmed by the pressure put on him at his new club. There were questions about his mindset at Dortmund, after all, with Jurgen Klopp more than once revealing the Armenian to be rather fragile, mentally.

Is it possible Mourinho is affording Lindelof the same induction period to grow accustomed to his new surroundings and the burden the Premier League places on the shoulders of young players, particularly ones signed for big money by Man Utd? Having chased the Swede for the best part of nine months, it seems unlikely Mourinho has given up on him after one competitive game and a handful of pre-season run-outs.

Mourinho is a master at evaluating a player’s mindset, only putting them to use when they are ready. Lindelof, stylistically, is precisely the sort of centre back Man Utd need – intelligent, good on the ball and capable of bringing it out from the back. Nothing has changed in that regard, it just might take him some time to show it.

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