A penny for the thoughts of Eric Bailly, please.
Six months on from signing a contract extension to keep him at the club until June 2024, Manchester United ’s Ivorian centre-back has found himself further down the pecking order than ever before.
Not only does he now rank below Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof when they are fully fit, the £30million man can’t even get ahead of them when they are injured.
After Saturday’s humiliating 4-2 defeat to Leicester at the King Power, United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer held his hands up and admitted he got his team selection wrong, but by then, the damage had already been done – in more ways than one.
Not only did United fall further behind in the Premier League title race following defeat, but Solskjaer effectively shattered the morale of Bailly – a man he could do with keeping happy and very much on side.
The Red Devils head into a crucial run of tricky fixtures in the coming weeks, and given their current defensive woes, Bailly will inevitably have to feature at some point. But how must he be feeling now?
To be viewed as a bigger risk than a crocked Maguire sends out a serious message about Solskjaer’s faith in the Ivorian, while highlighting just how chaotic United’s forward planning currently is, after recently tying down the evidently unwanted centre-back to a long-term deal.
With Varane expected to be out for the coming weeks and Maguire barely having trained since picking up an injury in last month’s clash with Aston Villa, Bailly looked nailed on to partner Lindelof at the heart of the Untied defence on Saturday.
Instead, the 27-year-old, who joined from Villarreal in the summer of 2016 for the hefty aforementioned fee, was left to rot on the bench once more.
Solskjaer took a gamble he could ill-afford to take, throwing Maguire in at the deep end to pile further pressure on himself in the Manchester United hotseat.
Maguire looked sluggish throughout, being dispossessed by Kelechi Iheanacho for the Foxes’ opener which Youri Tielemans dispatched with aplomb.
The £80million United captain looked a shadow of himself having clearly been rushed back to action in a desperate attempt by Solskjaer to seek some United stability once more.
However, the risk backfired. Big time.
Maguire’s lack of match sharpness was no more evident than in the fourth goal United conceded in the dying minutes of the match.
So often a commanding defensive figure for club and country in his own penalty area, Maguire was seen peeling off to the back post, when he stood motionless as a Tielemans whipped in a free kick.
Rooted to the spot, Maguire watched on Patson Daka then scrambled in Leicester’s fourth to become the first Zambian to net in the Premier League.
Quite simply, Maguire shouldn’t have been on the pitch.
While his Norwegian manager clearly didn’t see it that way, even a defeat to Leicester with the often-questioned Lindelof and Bailly pairing at the back wouldn’t have drawn as much criticism as this.
So where exactly does that leave Bailly and United now?
After coming under fire following the failed Maguire gamble at the weekend, Solskjaer simply has to field Bailly when Atalanta visit Old Trafford on Wednesday – for his sake, for United’s and for Bailly’s.
While Maguire evidently needs more time to recover, Bailly needs to step up to prove the doubters – Solskjaer seemingly being one of them – wrong.
If United are to ride out the imminent storm ahead over the next few weeks, team spirit, togetherness and trust are going to need to be at an all-time high.
But that starts with Solskjaer. And if the Norwegian boss can’t even have faith in his own players, a long and gruelling few weeks could be in store.Read More Read More