Eric Bailly was back on the bench for Manchester United at the weekend after missing the Club Brugge game with a knock picked up against Chelsea.
It was a positive step for Bailly to be back in the United 18 so quickly, given how some players quietly pick up an injury and then end up facing weeks out.
Despite this, one newspaper bizarrely turned Bailly’s situation into a negative story, with The Mirror claiming the defender is being ‘frozen out’.
Bailly was United’s man of the match against Chelsea, stepping in to replace an ill Victor Lindelöf, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer describing his performance as ‘absolutely fantastic’ [Goal].
Has to be managed sensibly
Bailly may want to start every single game he is available for but he has to be managed very carefully.
Since his £30 million move from Villarreal his Old Trafford spell has been hampered by injuries. He missed the last two months of last season with a knee problem, and then the first five months of this campaign with a separate knee injury sustained on tour in China in July.
Bailly proved his quality beyond a doubt against Chelsea a week ago. He just needs to be a little patient.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelöf are building a strong partnership at the back, and Bailly chances of regular game time depend mostly on United switching to three at the back regularly.
Even then he has to compete with a returning Axel Tuanzebe and Luke Shaw, who has shifted position to also feature as a centre-back in a three man defence when called upon.
But in a long season when fifth or sixth choice Phil Jones has been called on and there has even been debate as to whether United were wrong to loan out Chris Smalling, a player as talented as Bailly will always get chances.
Busy upcoming schedule
The suggestion Bailly could be being frozen out is frankly laughable, just one week after his successful return.
Bailly is not a player who should be playing twice in a week due to his injury history when there are alternatives available. If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer forced the issue and he picked up another injury, the manager would be open to heavy criticism after the Marcus Rashford situation.
United face Club Brugge on Thursday night and the defender’s absence on Sunday may have been with a start in mind against the Belgians.
Failing that, Bailly’s aerial ability could be ideally suited to facing Everton at Goodison Park on Sunday. Crucially, his return and availability give United options heading into a week where balancing the squad will be vital.
This week pundit Garth Crooks called for United to add a defensive colossus, telling BBC Sport: “What they need is a Virgil van Dijk-type figure alongside Maguire in defence.”
Bailly at his towering best can be that player. His fitness issues have just meant he has lacked the consistent game time to show it.
He can still get there, but United have to treat his return carefully, and during his long absence, other players have stepped up and do not deserve to lose their spots.
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