Manchester United will take on their third match of the UEFA Champions League group stage this Wednesday. Once again they will leave Old Trafford, as they will take on Benfica at Estadio da Luz in Lisbon, Portugal. And as it has been the trend during the current season, we can expect several changes to the side that drew against Liverpool this past weekend in the English Premier League.
Considering the likely absences of Marouane Fellaini, Paul Pogba and Michael Carrick, it is safe to say Ander Herrera and Nemanja Matic will form the midfield pairing. And David De Gea is definitively starting between the posts considering his stellar effort against The Reds. But the rest of the starting XI could see some changes. One of those MUST happen on the defensive line.
Even though his performances this season have been average at best, Jose Mourinho needs to start Victor Lindelof for this game. Yes, you read that right. Lindelof needs to start against his former club.
The Swedish centre-back will feel at home at Estadio da Luz considering he signed from Benfica this past summer. And he spent five years with Benfica, as he joined their B team on 2012 and played with the senior team until a few months ago.
As if that was not enough, Lindelof has familiarity with Benfica’s opposing strikers. And in big games like Wednesday’s one, that matters. The Swedish was teammates with Eduardo Salvio, Andrija Zivkovic, Raul Jimenez, and Franco Cervi last season. He might not be familiar with Haris Seferovic or Gabriel Barbosa, but that is a sort of “common rule”. Most players have not been teammates for a long time with their opponents. But if Lindelof knows the players he will face, then he might have an upper hand to limit their strengths and exploit their weaknesses.
Lindelof might only be 23 years old, but he already has 15 presences wth the Swedish National Team. He has been a regular name of the squad in the past World Cup Qualifiers. His Premier League performances have not been very good, but we have to cut him some slack. He is a young player adjusting to a whole new environment, and that takes time for some. Plus, Lindelof has looked pretty decent in the Champions League scenario. He knows the competition inside-out, and has enjoyed strong displays on both games against FC Basel and CSKA Moscow.
Whether he plays alongside Eric Bailly, Phil Jones or Chris Smalling remains to be seen. But the Swedish centre-back should definitively be in the starting XI for Wednesday’s match. His familiarity with the opposition and the venue could be quite useful in a match United need to win to take another step towards reaching the next round.