Three at the back can save Eric Bailly's Manchester United career
Sitting in the treatment room, 2019/20 has been incredibly frustrating for Eric Bailly so far.
He began pre-season as one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s preferred centre-back duo, and then he injured his knee. Again.
United were probably going to sign a centre-back anyway, but his injury made it absolutely essential, and a £80 million agreement for Harry Maguire was eventually struck.
Bailly has had to watch as Maguire, Lindelöf, and Axel Tuanzebe have settled in, while Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones have filled in too.
The Ivorian should overtake Rojo and Jones in the pecking order, but being fourth choice is a tough spot for a player. Just look at Tuanzebe’s irregular usage, just one Premier League start at centre-back, and he’s third choice.
That’s why a shift to three at the back could be fantastic news for Bailly, if Ole Gunnar Solskjaer adopts this approach permanently.
There are differing timeframes on Bailly’s potential return. It’s possible he won’t play until January.
Premier Injuries project he might be back a little before, with December 21 pencilled in as a possible return date in time for the festive fixtures.
Either way, when he does come back, it will be a lot easier for him to get a chance if United are playing three at the back.
As fourth choice, he would be just one injury or suspension to a teammate away from getting a starting spot. With a busy fixture list, United would need to rotate regardless.
Bailly’s problem has been staying fit himself. He suffered a knee injury against Chelsea last April which ended his season early, before recovering and then getting injured again. It’s why he has played only 50 Premier League games in three years since his £30 million move.
We have all seen Bailly at his very best. And when he plays to his full capability, there’s a strong case he is better than Lindelöf.
A back three of Bailly, Lindelöf and Maguire could be excellent, as would Bailly, Tuanzebe and Maguire.
If United revert to two at the back, Bailly might have to look for a transfer in order to play regular football. The formation shift gives him a new lease of life.
It’s a shame he isn’t ready to step in right now and contribute start away. United will stay patient. We know Bailly may be worth it eventually.
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