Five games. Five wins. Five clean-sheets. This is Manchester United’s record with Eric Bailly in the side this year.
No matter the level of opposition, such a reading cannot be ignored, or even underplayed.
The Ivorian is back to full-fitness following his successful knee surgery, retuning to the side with a point to prove. As noted above, the stats certainly don’t lie, which bodes the question – could he become a key starter for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team next season?
Glimpses of quality on show
When Bailly arrived under Jose Mourinho back in 2016, it didn’t take long for the defender to quickly establish himself as a key member of the starting XI. The Portuguese manager, who places such importance and trust in his CB’s, started his new signing in United’s opening eight Premier League games.
Such momentum was suddenly brought to a halt though, a recurring narrative in Bailly’s Old Trafford career. He picked up a nasty knee injury, before his 17/18 campaign was overshadowed by an ankle injury. The defender then requiring surgery in the summer of 2019, again forcing the fiery figure to watch on from the sidelines.
It’s certainly been a frustrating period for both the player and fans, more so the latter, as we have all seen the qualities that Bailly possesses. He’s a pacy and aggressive defender – attributes that have seen him adapt quickly to the English game, despite a limited amount of game-time.
When fit, we have seen enough cameos to recognise the defender’s quality on the field. His ability to cover his partner in-behind is a valuable trait in this challenging league, and one we have seen him put to good use against the likes of Jamie Vardy and Mohammed Salah.
Ideal partner for Maguire?
In his four starts under Solskjaer, Bailly has partnered Maguire on three occasions. Such games came against Club Brugge, Chelsea and LASK, with the latter two certainly being key fixtures in United’s season. Is the Norwegian gearing them up for a partnership for the next campaign?
Whilst Victor Lindelof has been a consistent figure at the back for the Red Devils, it’s hard to ignore how Bailly’s strengths, coincide with Maguire’s weaknesses.
Most notably with regards to pace, the Ivorian has offered some reassurances in-behind United’s backline. As commanding as the club captain can be, we have seen him become a little suspect when tracking runs going back towards his goal. He prefers to operate as the leading figure stepping forward, allowing Bailly to act as cover.
Another dynamic that Bailly’s skillset allows United to play, is with three at the back. At Stamford Bridge, we saw him cover the right channel of the backline, with Maguire central and Luke Shaw on the left. It was a commanding display from United, frustrating Chelsea with their rigid backline, squeezing the space between the midfield and defence.
The Blues managed just one shot on target, with WhoScored rating Bailly at a respectable 7.6, and Maguire man-of-the-match with 9.0.
Options at the back
Whilst it remains to be seen which partnership Solskjaer will opt for, it certainly is refreshing to see United have some bolstered options at the back.
Bailly will no doubt be pushing to enter the first-team picture now that he’s fit, with Axel Tuanzebe also sniffing around. Both players’ seasons have been overshadowed by injuries, but the determined figures will be keen to impress next season.