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FC BARCELONA HAVE DONE MANCHESTER UNITED A FAVOUR IN THE TRANSFER MARKET





Lindelof celebrates Andreas Pereira's goal in Linz


The last gullible act from Manchester United concerning a contract renewal was that of Victor Lindelof's. In July, his agent Hasan Cetinkaya claimed Lindelof was Barcelona's fall-back target after Matthijs de Ligt chose to join Juventus. Two months later, Lindelof and Cetinkaya were arm-in-arm in the Carrington press room, celebrating a new contract.

Lindelof was not halfway through what was effectively a five-year contract and his agent had played a beauty. Lindelof actually rebuked his agent for telling El Mundo Deportivo, of all newspapers, a 'big club' had touched base at a press conference in Perth. The Barcelona 'interest' was just about believable, though not as believable as Cetinkaya adopting a scaremongering tactic to obtain an improved contract.

United's willingness to kowtow to Cetinkaya was all the more curious given the information they had gathered about rancour that was simmering behind the scenes at Barcelona. Senior sources at United spoke in October about issues at Barcelona that could be challenging for the club in the coming years, citing the cycle of presidents, and the issues have come to light.


Barcelona are now more of a basket case of a club than United. Six of the club's senior directors resigned this month and the mask has slipped with Lionel Messi, railing at the boardroom suits and director of football Eric Abidal for questioning the players' morals and commitment.

Despite piling more debt on United, those involved in the day-to-day running of the club believe the ownership of the Glazers offers stability. Although that unctuous outlook jars with some supporters, United believe it is more stable than the cycle of presidents Barcelona churn through. Josep Maria Bartomeu, the incumbent, is almost certain to be voted out at next year's election, and most of the club's pivotal players are in their 30s.

The possibility of Barcelona wresting Lindelof from United was as fanciful as Cetinkaya's tale. Phil Jones was gifted a new deal altogether at the start of last year, so Lindelof - United's most consistent performer in 2018-19 - was entitled to demand parity with a fellow centre half who has outstayed his welcome. Only Lindelof's renewal came amid a regressive spell of form and approval was not widespread.


Lindelof proving critics wrong - Solskjaer

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has remained unwaveringly loyal to Lindelof and the three Premier League matches he has missed were all through injury. Lindelof was last outright dropped by Jose Mourinho for the fraught 3-2 comeback against Newcastle United 18 months ago, and he started in eight of the unbeaten 11-game run.

Lindelof's partnership with Harry Maguire is hardly foolproof. Neither are the quickest and the use of a third centre half - usually Luke Shaw - has effectively been an acceptance of the partnership's flaws, albeit a successful measure. Shaw has lined up in the last 11 and United kept clean sheets in nine of them.

Eric Bailly, quicker and stronger than Lindelof, was starting to exert pressure and should have started in the draw at Everton, where Dominic Calvert-Lewin was quicker and stronger than Lindelof. The Scandinavian solidarity is yet to be truly tested.

Lindelof celebrates McTominay's clincher against City

"Eric's been out for a long, long time," Solskjaer said at Goodison Park. "We have one of the best clean sheet stats in Europe. Victor and Harry have been a big, big part of that. Eric's played well when he's played, he'll got more and more games probably, but it's important we get him 100 per cent fit before we demand a game every three days from him."

Bailly is a more excitable presence and a former coach of Lindelof's at Vasteras described him as 'the opposite of Pogba'. The introvert has become an extrovert under the guidance of his neighbour; Lindelof and his wife and son were invited to Pogba's son's first birthday party and Lindelof gave Pogba lifts into Carrington during his recovery from ankle surgery. The pair were training together in lockdown before the government enforced social distancing.

Out of the top five major European leagues, United are second behind only Paris Saint-Germain for clean sheets across all competitions. That provides Solskjaer with just as compelling a case to retain Lindelof as the fact that United lost two of the three league games without him; against Newcastle and Burnley.

Whatever the criteria for 'errors leading to a goal', it looks kindly on Lindelof, absent from that Premier League table even though he was culpable for Crystal Palace's opener and Southampton's equaliser in August alone. The Video Assistant Referee spared Lindelof at Anfield and Shaw bailed him out with the game goalless against Watford in February.

Lindelof impressed in the home and away league derbies and, in a week that Woodward could have been dialling Mauricio Pochettino's number, Lindelof excelled in the early December triumphs over Tottenham and City. His big-game prowess, the availability of Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe, as well as Shaw's conversion, negate the need for a new centre half in the summer.

Barcelona could do with Lindelof now.






















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