Indifferent seems an appropriate way to describe Eric Bailly’s time at Manchester United. The Ivorian centre-back joined the club from Villareal in 2016, with much promise, but has only managed to make 70 appearances for the club in six years.
Bailly began life at Old Trafford brilliantly and was awarded Man of the Match on his debut, the 2-1 win over Leicester in the Community Shield. The Ivorian’s first season at United was his most consistent, accumulating 38 appearances in all competitions as Jose Mourinho guided the team to Europa League glory.
But the 28-year-old’s time at the club has been disrupted by injuries, and last season the defender managed just 21 appearances in all competitions under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as United finished second in the Premier League. Bailly’s struggles will have only been compounded by his former side Villareal progressing to the semi-final of the Champions League this week, after beating United in the Europa League final last season.
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While this season has once again seen Bailly ravaged by fitness issues, the Ivorian could yet play a role in the season run-in. United have failed to keep a clean sheet in their past four Premier League matches, and if Ralf Rangnick’s side are to make a late push for Champions League qualification, the German needs to shore things up at the back.
Despite an underwhelming campaign for United’s captain, Harry Maguire, the England international has arguably looked more assured in United’s past two fixtures. Maguire made some vital tackles against Leicester last week and was hugely unfortunate to see Anthony Gordon’s shot deflect off his thigh to give Everton the win on Saturday.
Raphael Varane was signed as Maguire’s defensive partner in the summer, and the French World Cup winner — just like fellow summer signings Cristiano Ronaldo and Jadon Sancho — was meant to transform United into title contenders. Varane has suffered fitness woes of his own this year, meaning that Victor Lindelof has been used on multiple occasions by Solskjaer and now Rangnick.
Could Bailly, then, provide some kind of an answer to United’s defensive frailties? The answer to that question depends on whether the Ivorian can maintain his fitness.
In his most prominent — and least injury-hit — season in 2016-17, Bailly helped United keep 12 Premier League clean sheets in his 24 starts. In addition, Mourinho’s side conceded the second-fewest goals in the league as they finished sixth.
Of course, Mourinho’s United team were known for their pragmatic (and occasionally negative) approach, but considering this season’s iteration have only kept seven clean sheets in the league this term, perhaps it’s worth giving Bailly a go.
Despite being fit since February, Bailly has not played a minute for United in 2022. Bailly is one of four international centre-backs Rangnick has at his disposal, and the interim boss needs to find the right partnership to fuel a late push for the top-four.
Bailly’s long-term future is up in the air, but in the short term, he could do a job.