When Eric Bailly posted a photo of himself returning to Carrington, many United fans realised that he was still at the club. The Ivorian seemed back and ready to train, after having sustained a knee injury in a pre-season game against Tottenham.
The reaction from United fans was hardly a surprise, considering that he has missed a total of 61 games through injury since he arrived in the summer of 2016 for a fee of £30 million. Since joining, Bailly has played 74 times in all competitions for the Red Devils.
But Bailly’s potential return to fitness comes at the right time. After November, the next international break takes place next year and the business end of the season will kick-start. Games will come thick and fast.
Axel Tuanzebe is also expected to return from injury soon and that too should come as a positive, with the season set to become much more rigorous now.
But that isn’t the only reason why Bailly’s return to fitness comes at the perfect time. Victor Lindelof has taken some criticism in recent weeks because of lack of aerial ability and pace. He was deemed at fault for Crystal Palace’s first goal, among others.
The Swede has played in ten Premier League games this season. He has won 2.5 aerial duels per game, but he has also lost 1.5 of them per game. That isn’t too promising a stat for a central defender, considering how aerially proficient his partner Harry Maguire is.
Maguire has also lost 1.7 aerial duels per game. But he has also attempted more aerial duels with 5.5. Which means the percentage of losing aerial duels is low for Maguire – a contrasting feature in comparison to Lindelof.
When it comes to Bailly, aerial ability is one of his strengths. In the 2017-18 campaign, the former Villarreal man made a total of only 1.9 aerial duels per game. That isn’t a big number, but he was consistent in winning them.
He won 1.3 of them, losing only 0.6 – a good number. That is better than Lindelof.
While the former Benfica man is a better technical defender and is more of a ball-player, he isn’t the best physically. United had the centre-back pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic back in the past. The reason it worked so well was how their qualities complemented each other.
Ferdinand was the ball-player, while Vidic was the no-nonsense bruiser. That is the way a lot of defensive pairings work. At Leicester City, Maguire was the bruiser and Jonny Evans was the ball-player.
Having more of a bruiser alongside him with help Maguire thrive. Bailly, if fit, can very well do that job. That is no disrespect to Lindelof, though. He is still an excellent defender and is very much United quality. But he has shown this season that he has that one error in six games in him that can lead to goals.
He could be out of form and that is natural. But once Bailly comes back, United will have another quality defender at the back who can do a job when asked to.