Exclusive interview: When Harry met Victor
Their growing defensive partnership has been one of the big positives of this season for Manchester United, and Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are loving every minute of playing alongside each other at the heart of the Reds backline.
Before the enforced pause on football due to the coronavirus, the pair sat down with Inside United to discuss all aspects of their partnership which has helped the Reds claim one of the best defensive records in all of Europe this term and has yielded nine clean sheets from our last 11 matches.
During their chat with IU, Harry and Victor reflected on their growing bond and understanding as a duo, their memories of their first game together, what they work on as a pairing in training and why they are focused on getting even stronger as a unit...
How would you sum up your partnership so far?
Victor Lindelof: It’s great to play with Harry. He’s a fantastic player and it’s great to partner with him. We want to win more games and I think for every game we play together we become better and better. Hopefully we can keep improving and help the team get more clean sheets and get more results.
Harry Maguire: It’s been brilliant [playing with Victor]. We’ve had a good season up to now together. When you form partnerships it takes time, I’m learning his game and he’s learning mine and I think we’re getting better. We’re keeping a lot more clean sheets than we were at start of season and we’ve never really been a team which has conceded a lot of chances. We’ve been poor from set-plays with our defending and we’ve had a couple of great goals scored against us from outside the box, but we haven’t really been having games where David [De Gea] has had to make five or six saves apart from maybe the Carabao Cup second leg against City when David was brilliant. It’s a partnership that’s building and I think we’ll get better and better, and start keeping more clean sheets like we have been doing recently.
What are your memories of playing against each other?
VL: I played against him a few times when he was at Leicester and I played against him in the World Cup when he scored against us and I’m still a bit mad at him for that! [Laughs] I thought he was a great player back then and it’s great to have him on my team.
HM: Obviously as Vic said it was a big game in a quarter-final of the World Cup and both teams had done brilliantly to get there and to score the first goal was brilliant. A lot of big games nowadays are decided by set-play goals and it was a tight game that day and we managed to get the first one and it’s a great memory for me. I knew before I came here how good a player Vic was. I’ve watched him playing for United in the last couple of years and he’s grown and grown. I’ve seen that again this season and he’s going to be a great player for the future as well as now.
What are your recollections of your first game together for United, the 4-0 win over Chelsea?
VL: It was a great first game for us. We hadn’t trained too much together before that match, maybe two or three days was it…
HM: Yeah it was just two or three days…
VL: But it’s easier of course when you talk to each other and communicate. We talked before the game about how we wanted to play and how we wanted to keep a high line and stuff like that and cover each other’s backs. Of course it would have been better to have trained more together before that match but we won the game and picked up a clean sheet so it was a great first game.
HM: It was obviously my debut and a great debut with a result like that. Four goals, a clean sheet and starting to build a partnership with Vic… as he said we’d only trained together two/three days so we had a couple of chats of how we wanted to play. Partnerships build and grow and I feel that’s happened with me and Vic. There’s no doubt about it that in recent months we’ve kept numerous clean sheets when we’ve played together and over 10 games or so across December and January we had six or seven clean sheets so it’s building and things look promising and I’m sure we’ll get better.
How would you describe each other’s strengths?
HM: I think his composure on the ball is a big thing for us. When we’re under pressure he takes his time, he finds good passes through the lines and he’s cool and calm. He’s not rash in anything he does, he’s always in control of his game and I think that’s a big thing as a defender. In some games as a defender you just want to get through the games, go home and have people not speak about you as that shows you’ve had a good game. You don’t want to be rash, you want to be cool and calm and in control.
VL: Harry is a great defender. He reads the game well and he’s very, very good on the ball and I think we complement each other very well. He’s very strong and in the air he’s fantastic and the way he’s been playing this season just shows what a great defender and footballer he is, and he can only get better and better.
And he’s got a great shot on him too…
VL: Yeah [smiles] he showed that! He’s got a great right foot and can make good passes – short passes or long balls and he showed he can shoot in that FA Cup game [against Tranmere Rovers].
HM: It’s about time I scored one or two with my head now! [Smiles]
Do centre-backs looking to develop a partnership do any specific work on the training pitch to help bed that process in? Are there tailored programmes from the coaches to help that or does it come naturally?
HM: Yeah we’re always talking and we’re always working… we want to improve and there’s no doubt we can get better as individuals and as a partnership and as a back four. We’ve got to keep working on things and getting better and I think you’ve seen the progress this season. Like I said we don’t concede many chances but we’ve been poor from set-plays and that was something we worked on during the winter training camp to try and nail down not conceding soft goals from set-plays because they’ve lost us many points this season. We work hard every day in training as a back four and a defence as a whole, for example we’ve been working on some three v threes and covering each other and, like I said, we’ll get better the more we play together.
Is there a game you’ve played together when everything just clicked?
VL: I think we’ve played some really, really good games this season but I can’t really come up with just one game. Maybe you know one Harry…
HM: I think like you say there are a lot of games that we’ve done well in. When we keep a clean sheet is doesn’t always mean that we’ve played well. We’ve conceded goals this season and sometimes played better in those games compared to the matches in which we’ve not conceded any. For example when we went to Manchester City [in the Carabao Cup], David [De Gea] kept us in the game when on another day it could have been two or three goals for them. But then, thinking off the top of my head, we played Everton at home and they didn’t really have a chance in the game and we conceded a goal. So it’s not just about clean sheets, it’s about limiting the opposition’s chances that they’re creating. There have been numerous games where we’ve been excellent as a defence and that’s what we need to replicate. There have been others we need to improve on and, like I said before, we will improve.
Is it really in the fire of a match situation that a partnership is best forged, when you learn the most about each other and how to play together?
HM: Yeah I think in games is when you learn most about each other. I think experience is massive, just playing in games. No matter what you say you can replicate things on the training pitch but it’s never the same as under the intense pressure of playing at Old Trafford or playing in an away game so games are where you learn the most. Thankfully we haven’t had many injuries between us really this season, we’ve only missed the odd the game and the more games you play the better you’ll become and the better we’ll understand each other.
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And you’re playing in front of the best goalkeeper in the world too…
VL: Of course it’s great to have David behind us. He gives you security and if we might make a mistake we know that he’s behind us and can save the ball. It’s great to have him and he’s been great for us. We talk a lot and he helps us, and we try to help him as much as we can.
HM: The goalkeepers here are top class. David is world class, he’s been world class for a numerous amount of years now. I haven’t been surprised by him since I came here because I expected him to be really good and he is really good! I think this season, and if you spoke to David himself he’d say the same, that he’s not been as busy in terms of shot-stopping as he was last season. I think the boys said last season David was really keeping them in a lot of games and making five/six good saves in every match. The good thing about goalkeepers is they stay switched on and when he’s needed to make a great save he does it and David’s been doing that now for this club for numerous years. Time after time he proves that he’s the best goalkeeper in the world like you say.
We’ve seen a number of young full-backs come into the side this season – have you both felt a responsibility to help them bed in as the main marshals of the defence?
VL: Yeah of course you always try to help your team-mates and as a unit at the back everyone tries to help each other and I think they’ve been doing well when they’ve played, Brandon [Williams] has been brilliant for example. He’s been playing more on the left so Harry’s been taking care of him. I’ve played a bit more with Aaron [Wan-Bissaka] and he’s been brilliant since he came here. It’s great to have our full-backs in the team and I think as a back four we can only get better and better like we said before.
And it’s just you two at centre-back, we’ve got the likes of Phil Jones, Axel Tuanzebe, Eric Bailly and Tim Fosu-Mensah so there is quality there when needed…
HM: Yes definitely. It’s a strong part of our team and we have great strength in depth in the centre-half area, some big centre-halves who can all play and do a job in the Premier League. It’s nice to have that competition, it keeps you on your toes and you’ve got to work hard in training and be the best in training and be the best in the games. The young full-backs have been brilliant; there is no doubt about it that we’re a young team. I see Vic as an experienced player in the team, even though he’s still young and still developing. We’re a young team and we’re going to get better and we’re going to learn. We’ve been too inconsistent this year, far too inconsistent at times and we need to start playing a bit more maturely in games and know how to win when we’re not playing at our best, and that will come. We’re improving and, like I said, the results in the Premier League could have gone better for us and there are bits in games where we know we can do be better. We’re working hard and we’ll do our best to make sure we get there.
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Victor, Harry is our new skipper – what would you say about him as a leader?
VL: He’s been brilliant. He’s a presence on the pitch and off the pitch as well. He takes responsibility and as partners we try to take responsibility and talk, not just to each other, but to our team-mates as well; Harry has been brilliant with that. He totally deserves to wear the armband, it’s a big responsibility and he’s been doing it in a very good way.
Harry, have you felt any different since becoming captain or have you just embraced the great honour that it is?
HM: Like you say it’s a great honour to be the captain of this great club. I’ve not really felt any different or acted any different, I see myself as, like Vic says, quite a presence on the pitch and quite vocal around the lads. We’re a young group and we need experience and we have the likes of Vic, David, Juan who are really experienced around the dressing room and we need to help these young boys develop and make sure we develop into a top team and go and start challenging for big trophies.
When you think of other famous centre-back partnerships are there any you looked up to growing up? Of course at United we think of the likes of Bruce and Pallister and Ferdinand and Vidic…
VL: Those ones you talk about were really good players. Of course Ferdinand and Vidic are closer to my time so I saw them a lot growing up and they were great players. And we’re just trying to do our best and to help the team become as good as possible.
HM: Yes of course growing up I watched Rio and Vidic playing at centre-back and they had a great partnership for a few years. Partnerships can grow and they can build but at the end of the day you get judged on how many games you win and how many trophies you lift at the end of your career. We’re starting new and afresh but come a few years’ time that’s where we want to be, we want to be lifting trophies.
We’ve talked about the defensive parts of your game but no doubt you both want to keep adding goals as well…
HM: Definitely. My first goal [for the club] was a great feeling. I decided to hit it as hard as I could and it found the top corner. It’s something I’ve always had in my game and this season I’ve been disappointed with not getting a goal from a set-play, I’ve always averaged three or four from set-plays. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had good chances, against Newcastle and West Ham I should score. But it’s coming and I’m sure I’ll score soon and hopefully sooner rather than later.
What did you think of Victor’s nice headed finish against Aston Villa in December?
HM: It was a great header – a great leap and great timing and I’d like to score one myself like that in the coming weeks. We’re not the tallest squad, we’ve lacked a bit of height and that’s probably a reason why we have struggled from defensive set-plays and haven’t scored anywhere near enough from attacking set-plays, so we need to make sure we’re a threat going forward and that we’re solid at the back when we come to defend set-plays. But definitely it was a great header from Vic and I’m sure we’ll get more from now until the end of the season.
Victor – do you get as much of a buzz out of scoring goals as keeping a clean sheet?
VL: Well as a defender of course I want to keep a clean sheet but it’s always nice to help the team with a goal as well. I don’t score a lot these days, I used to when I was younger, but it’s rare now and it’s always fun to score.
And what did you think of Harry’s strike against Tranmere?
VL: It was a brilliant goal. He’s very good on the ball and carrying it forward and you could almost feel like it was going to be a goal when he came forward. He did that perfectly and I think I even got an assist…
HM: Yep you got an assist [Smiles]
VL: So it was a brilliant assist and goal - perfect! [Smiles]
Describe each other in three words…
HM: Cool, calm, composed.
VL: I’m saying the same for him - cool, calm, composed!
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