Manchester United cannot make the same mistake with Eric Bailly
Eric Bailly was Manchester United’s forgotten man. It’s not an overstatement to say many supporters had written him off, consigned him to a pile marked “deadwood.”
But, if anyone was capable of pulling off a recovery like this, it’s Bailly. In many ways, it was so predictable — given his mercurial abilities — that he’d come back to the side with a domineering defensive display. He was imperious against Chelsea and suddenly United fans had an exciting new talk about to dwell on.
In a week when Tyson Fury is due to rekindle his rivalry with Deontay Wilder, more than a year after rising like a phoenix from the canvas to draw a bout from a losing position, Bailly completed his own Lazarus act. Another serious knee injury suffered in pre-season looked to have put pay to the Ivorian’s chances of making a success of himself at Old Trafford — following a stop-start time since his arrival in June 2016.
But almost a year after his previous appearance, also against Chelsea (in April 2019), he has given Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a problem. A good one.
“Not a bad conundrum, because Eric’s a top player,” Solskjaer said after the 2-0 win at Stamford Bridge.”He’s such a top, top defender: he’s quick, he’s strong, brave as a lion and it’s great to have him back.”
Bailly is most certainly all of those things, but he’s also brittle.
Solskjaer and United have made a habit of running players unwisely into the ground at times this season. Harry Maguire has played through the pain barrier, Marcus Rashford was risked when apparently not at full capacity, while Scott McTominay played a whole half with knee ligament damage.
It barely needs stating that United cannot afford a repeat of these situations with Bailly. He’s too good to waste, too much of an asset to United’s defence to have sitting on the treatment table.
Solskjaer admitted himself the upcoming fixture schedule will necessitate lots of rotation.
“We need to make sure we find the right moments to put players in and out, and rotate the squad,” he said before the first leg against Club Brugge.
“Everyone’s very important for us and we need to make sure everyone feels valued as well. Because they’re contributing for us behind the scenes in training. We’ll make some changes for this game.”
One of those changes ought to be leaving Bailly on the sidelines, with United boosted by the return of Victor Lindelof.
Because it’s not as though United don’t have options at centre-back — it’s arguably the position in which they’re best stacked, with Axel Tuanzebe also due to return from injury.
Solskjaer noticed a big improvement in his side from a defensive standpoint, even before Bailly’s triumphant return.
“I think we’ve improved as a team defensively all season,” added the Norwegian. “Of course, five games with a clean sheet in Europe, apart from the Astana one. Then we’re now in a good moment as well, we’ve got four clean sheets on the bounce. We’re improving all the time, pressing high. You can see at times when we make the press high against Chelsea, when we managed to, we’re hard to break down.”
Bailly can only enhance the United defence, while he’s adept at playing the ball out from the back too. But he must be treated carefully and his game time must be managed properly.
It would be rotten luck for the man who’s started just 44 league games in almost four years at United, to pick up another injury. But United have a special talent in the 25-year-old and he must be nurtured.