Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s loyalty to certain players is one of the factors behind his team’s poor form this season.
The Telegraph report how Solskjaer rushed Harry Maguire back for the Leicester game ahead of schedule, with just one training session.
Maguire struggled badly and United shipped four goals. To Solskjaer, this was preferable to playing Eric Bailly.
Bailly’s star turn against Villarreal emphasised how poor Solskjaer’s judgement was to use him so sparingly.
Managers always look for a response from players when they come back into the side, and Bailly’s display against Atalanta was the perfect riposte to his snub beforehand – which had seen him feature in just one match all season.
Bailly was only called up due to an injury to Victor Lindelof, and in Bergamo rather than being a weak link, he stood tall as United’s best defender on the night.
Now United have a big decision to make heading into the derby with City this weekend.
Two or three at the back Bailly must be guaranteed a place
The extent of Raphael Varane’s and Victor Lindelof’s injuries will play a part in determining the formation United use at the weekend, a 3-5-2 or 4-2-3-1.
If United go with three at the back, the chances of Bailly starting are enhanced as there are more spots available.
The most likely scenario for a back three is Lindelof recovers, and United have a backline of Lindelof, Bailly, and Maguire.
In a formation with just two central defenders, Solskjaer will likely have a choice to make. And this is where Bailly’s performance should be rewarded.
Bailly must be the automatic choice this weekend and have his strong performance rewarded.
Then Harry Maguire must battle it out with Victor Lindelof to earn the right to partner him. The captain is out of form and his place should not be assured right now.
United’s team must be an open competition
The way United’s players reacted so positively spoke volumes about how Bailly is regarded.
Bailly’s performance was hailed on social media, with Jadon Sancho, Diogo Dalot, Jesse Lingard, Alex Telles and Juan Mata among those who led the praise of the Ivorian.
It is notable that many of these players who were so quick to praise Bailly, were players who have spent a lot of time on the bench themselves lately.
They will have known how tough it has been for Bailly, and how much it will mean to him to seize his chance.
This is why Solskjaer has to reward Bailly’s strong performance by handing him another start, against City this weekend.
Even if he has his doubts, it is the right decision. Bailly has earned this spot, and rewarding his strong performance sends the right message to the rest of the squad.
If Solskjaer follows this up by dropping Bailly this weekend, it could backfire on him behind the scenes as well as on the pitch.
The battle for a United place must be an open competition, a meritocracy, not a closed shop.
There were murmurings after the Liverpool game about squad frustration with so-called favouritism and players like Bailly and Van de Beek not being given adequate playing time [Telegraph].
This problem will be exacerbated if Solskjaer snubs Bailly this weekend.
The spot(s) alongside Bailly should be up for grabs. But for this game at least, it must be an issue of who partners Bailly, rather than whether he will play at all.
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