Eric Bailly’s performance for Manchester United against Aston Villa was outstanding.
For those who have believed in Bailly since he signed for the club back in 2016, it is not a surprise to see the Ivorian playing so well.
The issue for Bailly has always been about staying fit. It is with a combination of hope and scepticism that we believe he might have turned a corner.
This was the first time since 2017 that Bailly had started four consecutive Premier League games. Consistency helps bring out the best of his ability.
Solskjaer has been very cautious with Bailly since he returned from a knee injury in February which kept him out of the first half of the 2019/20 season. Rarely did Bailly started two games in 10 days let alone four.
An injury to Victor Lindelof has given Solskjaer little choice, with the equally brittle Axel Tuanzebe the alternate option.
If Solskjaer was tempted to give Tuanzebe some game time, Bailly has not provided an option. He has been so good that there is no reason to take him out.
Solskjaer likes consistency with his centre-backs. That is why Bailly has struggled to get game time ahead of Lindelof. When the Swede has been performing well, the manager has been reluctant to take him out.
A better option
Bailly has been so excellent alongside Harry Maguire, a near ever present for United in 2020. He has traits which make him a better compliment for Maguire than Lindelof.
The recovery speed Bailly possesses mixes up the styles United have at the position, and having pace alongside him means Maguire can be more aggressive, knowing he has a player who can better cover him.
Bailly can be rash at times, and puts his body on the line at times which invariably leads to injuries. It also provides moments of brilliance like his late game block against Aston Villa.
The challenge for Bailly now is simply to stay fit. His performance level is outstanding.
If he keeps on playing like this then United have no need to go out and buy a new centre-back.
The problem is, not many fans believe it will keep up. Even after four excellent performances, you are left waiting for the fifth game when Bailly gets injured.
The worst case scenario would be Bailly staying fit all January and then picking up an injury in early February once the transfer window is closed. This would not be at all surprising.
Or if Bailly stays fit until the rest of the season, will he suffer another harmful injury in 2021/22?
This is the kind of doubt which materialises when a player has started just 13 Premier League matches since the start of the 2018/19 season. Or going back to the beginning of 2017/18, 24 matches in total.
Bailly has been brilliant, but he has to keep fit for it to really be believed. That won’t change for at least another 18 months, for us to feel it really is here to stay and not just a temporary mirage.
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