It is shaping up as though Eric Bailly will get his first Premier League start since the lockdown against Aston Villa.
Manchester United’s preference so far has been to continue with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof’s promising partnership.
A back injury to Lindelof saw him forced off at half-time against Bournemouth, and he then missed training on Monday before returning on Tuesday.
The club website list Lindelof as a ‘doubt’ following Solskjaer’s morning press conference.
Enter Eric Bailly
This is the opportunity Ivory Coast international defender Eric Bailly has been waiting for.
Bailly returned to fitness in January, and then had to wait until February for his debut.
This came in the 2-0 win over Chelsea, in which he put in a fantastic display, which included a full-stretch sliding block to deny Mateo Kovacic a possible goal.
Since then Bailly has been unfortunate not to start a single Premier League match.
He has stayed patient, and started two Europa League and two FA Cup games since.
One big decision Solskjaer will face coming up is whether Bailly should keep his place in the FA Cup for the semi-final against Chelsea, or if he should revert to his preferred partnership of Maguire and Lindelof.
This game against Aston Villa, if he starts, could act as another audition for Bailly for the crucial game at Wembley.
So with a place at Wembley on the line, and this being potentially Bailly’s first Premier League start since February and just his second since April 2019, the 26-year-old enters this game under a little pressure.
Bailly will be helped by a weak Aston Villa strikeforce, with their team scoring just two goals in five games since the restart.
The good part of this is that Bailly had an opportunity to shake off some rustiness with 45 minutes against Bournemouth.
A penalty decision given against him for handball was harsh, but also one he can learn from.
His record has been good since returning to action in February. In 380 minutes of action he has seen United concede just two goals.
United will expect a clean sheet at Villa Park and Bailly may feel disappointed if the team do not get one.
Could make United a better team
There is a saying in sports that sometimes ‘a team is one injury away from getting better’.
This could apply here, with Eric Bailly, potentially a superior defender to Lindelof, waiting for his chance. Now the Swede’s misfortune allows Bailly to stake his claim.
Bailly is stronger in the air than Lindelof, he is also quicker. It is his speed which could complement Harry Maguire really well, and help build an even more superior partnership.
He is the type of aggressive defender who attackers do not enjoy playing against, in the way that he forcefully competes for every ball and does not hold back. This has got him into trouble at times with injury, but it is how he plays.
So far Bailly has been unlucky, that the timing of his return from injury came at a moment where Maguire and Lindelof were beginning to gel.
All he needed was an opening, an opportunity. Now Bailly has the chance to take it, and if he plays well, he could earn a run in the team.
United supporters believe in his talent, and now hopefully free of his fitness struggles, it is time for the centre-back to step up.
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