Victor Lindelof starting to look like a Manchester United player

Victor Lindelof almost became a Manchester United player in January.

After losing Eric Bailly and Chris Smalling to injury, Jose Mourinho briefly thought about fast-tracking a deal for the Swedish defender. In the end, though, it was put on ice. Mourinho eventually decided Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were playing well enough to fill the gaps until Bailly and Smalling returned.

United went back to Benfica in the summer and signed Lindelof for £31 million, which made the 23-year-old the most expensive defender in the club's history. But there have been times this season when it looked like Benfica had the better end of the deal.

There was the rash challenge on Real Madrid's Theo Hernandez to give away a penalty during the preseason tour of the United States; then there was a diabolical 67 minutes against as a substitute against Huddersfield. And an unfortunate slip in the buildup to Dwight Gayle's opener for Newcastle at Old Trafford.

It is already quite a rap sheet. But, slowly and surely, Lindelof is starting to look like a United player. He dealt admirably with the physical threat of Glenn Murray against Brighton on Saturday and impressed again against one of the Premier League's in-form players, Richarlison, in the 4-2 victory over Watford on Tuesday night.

It maintained Lindelof's 100 percent record as a United player: eight starts, eight wins -- although that overlooks his performance as a substitute against Huddersfield and the fact Mourinho has managed his workload carefully.

"I think Richarlison is a very good player and a difficult player to play against," Mourinho said at Vicarage Road. "But Victor is very fast and he's adapted to play centrally, but also to go to the sides because he's got the agility that many of the central defenders don't have. I think it was another very positive performance by Victor."

Lindelof might be needed again against Arsenal on Saturday with Bailly and Jones still recovering from injury and sources have told ESPN FC that the defender is gradually recovering from a crisis of confidence triggered by his stuttering start at United.

Before he arrived at Old Trafford, everything had gone his way. He was plucked from Vasteras SK by Benfica having played 41 senior games and after just a season-and-a-half in Portugal's Primeira Liga, United came calling.

Indeed his rise has been so quick that three times during the January transfer window in 2015, Middlesbrough thought they had landed him on loan.

Mourinho made it clear from the start that the centre-back, who can also play at right-back and in midfield, would need time to adapt to the Premier League. He didn't even make the bench for six of United's first seven league games and had to wait until October for his Premier League debut.

Still, there were early glimpses of why Mourinho was so keen to bring him in. In his first United start against Basel in September, Lindelof completed 72 of his 75 passes. More impressively, they were not all nudged to his full-back, Ashley Young, or his centre-half partner, Smalling: he found advanced midfield players Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Marouane Fellaini 13 times. Two were straight into the feet of the centre-forward, Romelu Lukaku.

To put that into context, Smalling did not complete a single pass to Mkhitaryan or Lukaku, United's two most attacking players.

Whether it's in a three or four-man defence, there is competition for a place in United's backline from Bailly, Jones, Rojo and Smalling. Lindelof, though, offers something different.

He was key for Sweden in their World Cup playoff victory over Italy. In two games, Italy failed to score and Sweden won 1-0 on aggregate and Mourinho watched the first game in Stockholm from the stands. Since the international break, Lindelof has started three of United's four games -- his best run since arriving at Old Trafford.

His next test is whether he can do it against Arsenal and Manchester City -- United's next two Premier League fixtures. These are two games that could decide whether we are going to get a title race this season or not.

Mourinho might have no choice but to throw him in if Bailly and Jones are still sidelined. There is hope that Bailly might to fit to return at the Emirates, although he was also expected back in time to face Brighton.

"The league here is much tougher than Portugal," Lindelof said after his first Premier League start against Newcastle earlier this month. Here, it's much more difficult and you have tough games every week."

He could be about to get a taste of just how tough it can be.