It was a nip-and-tuck affair the last time Brighton and Hove Albion visited Old Trafford in the Premier League 15 months ago, a game that, in Ashley Young’s opinion, swung on one moment in the 55th minute. Victor Lindelof’s Manchester United career to that point had been bookmarked by errors, equivocation and increasing questions about his suitability following a £31 million move from Benfica, a club record fee for a defender.
But a crunching 50-50 challenge on Anthony Knockaert, from which he won the ball fairly yet with such force that the Brighton winger was left in a shell-shocked heap on the ground, instantly forced the Old Trafford crowd to stand up and take notice. 11 minutes later, United had broken the deadlock.
“Everyone in the stadium went, ‘Wow, where did that come from?’” Gary Pallister, the former United centre-back, reflected this week.
“They weren’t used to seeing that from Victor. As much as tackling has changed an awful lot, you’ve still got to hold your own, you’ve still got to be physical in the Premier League and I think that showed signs that he was getting an understanding of what it was all about.”
It would be overstating things to call it a turning point for Lindelof at Old Trafford. His teething troubles would not end there and then – Brighton beat United 3-2 in August, when Lindelof struggled – and, even now, he has a way to go to convince his doubters he can cut it in the long haul. Yet that tougher side to the Sweden defender’s character has become much more visible in recent weeks and, as United prepare to welcome Brighton back to Old Trafford today, a less-heralded footnote of the team’s dramatic resurgence under caretaker manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been Lindelof’s growing stature and confidence.