Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said at his pre-match press conference that Eric Bailly may not feature against West Ham.
Bailly was taken to hospital on Sunday, and later released, after a clash of heads which forced him out of United’s FA Cup semi-final with Chelsea.
Solskjaer was quoted by BBC Sport: “He is following protocols that are needed. Don’t think [he is] ready for this game.”
It is not surprising, considering Brandon Williams also sat out the Palace game last Thursday after suffering a head injury days earlier against Palace.
Bailly was pictured in training on Tuesday afternoon, so he could yet make the bench if he passes concussion tests, although it should be noted he was just seen sitting down, rather than actually being involved in the session.
Step up Teden Mengi?
If Bailly is not passed fit, this leaves Manchester United very low on depth at centre-back. Really low.
Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are still fortunately available, but after that, United’s options are dwindling.
Bailly joins Axel Tuanzebe and Phil Jones on the sidelines, while Marcos Rojo is still in Argentina, and Chris Smalling is out on loan.
This places 18-year-old defensive talent Teden Mengi as the next centre-back in the queue.
Mengi has been training with United’s first team since the beginning of June, after an impressive season in the academy.
The door is now open for Mengi to make a Premier League matchday squad for the very first time. He was an unused substitute in the Europa League against Astana last November.
United will need cover in some form in case of injury to Maguire or Lindelof during the match with West Ham.
What other options do United have?
It’s no guarantee Mengi gets the nod even if Bailly is not cleared to play.
United have the versatile Timothy Fosu-Mensah, who can played at centre-back as well as full-back on both sides.
If Luke Shaw is passed fit, he could also fill in, while United have emergency options like Scott McTominay and Nemanja Matic who could be redeployed to counter in-form Michail Antonio. (Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that though. United have bad memories of McTominay playing at centre-back against West Ham).
As this is a match which United need to win, Solskjaer could just flood his bench, with attackers.
If an injury to Lindelof of Maguire occurs, one way to counter it is simply to throw on another striker or creative player, and try to put West Ham on the back foot instead.
What makes Mengi so special?
Solskjaer spoke highly of Mengi at the start of July, telling the club website: “He’s done really well, he doesn’t seem out of place, so he’ll definitely be more and more in and around the first team next season as well.”
While this would be a big game for Mengi to suddenly get thrown into, everything he has shown in his short United career has shown he is ready for the test.
He stepped up into the under-23s this season and looked like a natural. He has captained the club in the Youth Cup in front of a crowd at Old Trafford, with more atmosphere than there will be for tonight’s game.
Mengi is well built physically and often sees opponents bounce off him. His speed also makes him a formidable opponent.
What makes him really special is the way he reads the game so smartly, and often does not need to use his physical attributes to win duels, because he is quick to spot danger and is first to the ball.
If Mengi is called up to the bench tonight, and then gets thrown in unexpectedly during the game, United fans should be confident he can handle the test.
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