The summer arrival from Villarreal will be out for at least a month and to date represented the sole piece of good business conducted in the summer transfer window
Some Manchester United players had spent the week prior to their 4-0 defeat against Chelsea mocking the footwear choices of Eric Bailly on social media. Ironic, considering he’s the only player who hasn’t put a foot wrong this season.
Only three players had played every minute of Manchester United’s Premier League campaign up to the point when Bailly suffered a knee ligament injury during the second half of the 4-0 loss at Chelsea.
David de Gea and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were two, and the third was Bailly himself. De Gea was responsible for the concession of costly goals against Stoke City and Chelsea on the day while Zlatan is on his longest barren streak in front of goal for a decade. It could be argued, then, that Bailly was the only player Jose Mourinho was able to trust wholeheartedly for the Premier League campaign so far.
“He is injured and I am afraid he is badly injured,” the Special One said at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. “In his knee, in the ligament area, he feels it is really bad.”
When the alternative is Marcos Rojo – with Phil Jones having apparently vanished – then you know United are in trouble at the back. There is a perplexing lack of strength in depth in the centre-back positions with it having been a case of “Bailly plus one” for the season so far.
Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were largely appalling in the absence of the 22-year-old CAF African Football of the Year nominee on Sunday; the crisis of confidence afflicting other sectors of Mourinho’s team finally reaching the backline which shut out Liverpool last Monday.
United looked beleaguered and badly organised throughout against Chelsea but it’s not a stretch to say that only Bailly of the defenders looks worthy of a place at this storied club. There is accurate distribution, short and long. There are crunching covering challenges and a desire to head balls in the box.
A sum of £30m was required to prise Bailly from Villarreal over the summer. After some initial reservations, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner has grown seamlessly into his surroundings.
There is no doubting that at the moment Bailly is the only summer transfer success story for United given the travails of Zlatan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the world’s most expensive footballer Paul Pogba. Only Bailly has played anywhere close to expectations and he arrived with the smallest fanfare too.
A patched-up defensive line will be on view on Wednesday night for the EFL Cup derby against City but none of Mourinho’s options instill much confidence back there. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are in bad need of a pick-me-up and could well have their eyes trained on the United defence as the opportunity to regain confidence.
The next month will also be a dry run for that period from the middle of January to February when Bailly will be at the Afcon with Cote d’Ivoire. Instead of poking fun at his sandals, by the time Bailly comes back, his team-mates might well be kissing his feet.