Bailly Has Solved A Problem For Man Utd

Two hundred and ninety five days
and 41 Manchester United matches separated the 1-1 home draw with
Chelsea in April last year and their two-goal triumph at Stamford Bridge
last month.

Bailly Has Solved A Problem For Man Utd 1

The
former was a real low point for the Reds – in the midst of a prolonged
run of poor form, and with central defender Eric Bailly sustaining a
serious knee injury.

But the recent triumph in West London
was a genuine sea-change both for the club and the player, who played
his first game since returning from his lengthy rehabilitation process.

Back with a bang

United
rode their luck at times at the Blues – Harry Maguire controversially
avoided a red card while two goals were chalked off for the hosts, but
the Red Devils produced a magnificent defensive display of resilience
and self-belief. After an understandably shaky opening 15 minutes,
Bailly was imperious. Playing in a back three alongside Maguire and Luke
Shaw, he showed why he was missed.

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There were two moments
which demonstrated Bailly’s undoubted quality. In the first half, he
robbed Michy Batshuayi of the ball in his own penalty area before a
cheeky dummy and run up the pitch to alleviate pressure showed his
awareness and ability on the ball – something Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
demands from his defenders. The second starring moment was more
conventional defending to block what appeared to be a certain Chelsea
goal – Mateo Kovacic broke free behind United’s defence and looked
certain to fire home before the Ivorian, out of nowhere, sprinted into
the camera frame to provide a goal-saving block. After the game,
Solskjaer described the piece of play as ‘out-of-this-world’.

Physical attributes

Bailly
was Jose Mourinho’s first signing at United almost four years ago – the
Portuguese boss knew the team required more physicality and dynamism,
two qualities which the Ivorian instantly brings to the table. Unlike
the more languid and self-assured Victor Lindelof, Bailly is a strong
and commanding defender while also possessing a remarkable burst of
acceleration.

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This quality set is particularly important for
games in which United are likely to dominate possession and push their
defence higher up the pitch. The space left in behind the back-line –
and especially on a spacious Old Trafford pitch – means that quick
recoveries, such as Bailly’s on Kovacic at the Bridge, are vital to
snuff out counter-punches from visiting teams. No other central defender
at the club possesses such quick recovery times.

Central defensive options

Under
Solskjaer, United have shown flexibility between playing a conventional
flat back four and a 3-5-2 system, incorporating three central
defenders and two wing-backs. Brandon Williams and Aaron Wan-Bissaka
proved their suitability for such positions in the recent victories over
Chelsea and Manchester City. Shaw has impressed on the left-side of a
three, which has worked with great success against teams who United cede
possession to.

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Captain Maguire marshals the middle with
Bailly and Lindelof the main contenders for the final position, with
Axel Tuanzebe another candidate. It is a system which works well as any
of the three central defenders are comfortable of advancing with the
ball at their feet and playing it into midfield. This transition phase
allows United to play their way out of the back whilst minimising risks.

Bailly
knows he has a fight on his hands for a regular first-team position but
he possesses the attributes to make him comfortable in both of these
systems. This flexibility should ensure that, if he steers clear of
injuries, he will be able to secure a prominent role for the Red Devils
going forward.