The excitement surrounding Manchester United’s summer signings under Jose Mourinho has been utterly justified, given the calibre of the new arrivals. Zlatan Ibrahimovic has notched four official goals already after his move from French champions Paris Saint-Germain, Paul Pogba has provided United’s midfield with some welcome direction and pace since his return to United from Juventus, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan has shown glimpses of the electric attacking form that got him voted the Bundesliga player of the year last season. But in many ways, the form of the club’s first signing in this past transfer window has been the most impressive.
Eric Bailly arrived at Old Trafford as something of an unknown quantity when he signed from Villareal in early June. The 22-year-old Ivorian wasn’t presented as the answer to United’s instability at centre-back, more of an option for the future. Yet his form for his new club has been incredibly impressive.
The partnership that he’s formed with Daley Blind has only allowed one goal in three league games so far this term, and Bailly has looked strong, composed and powerful every time he’s worn a United shirt to date. It’s as surprising as it is enjoyable, because whilst there was certainly a gap for the player to stake a claim for a first team place due to Jose Mourinho’s arrival, few expected this to be such a solid, complimentary partnership in front of David De Gea.
It’s a shame, then, that United will lose Bailly to international duty now that the Ivory Coast have confirmed their participation for January’s African Cup of Nations. Depending on how far his country progresses, he could be away for up to five weeks in the early New Year, which may be a big blow to Mourinho and his players. Still, it’s something that the Portuguese manager is well equipped to deal with, at least.
Retaining the services of both Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, whether that was due to a lack of suitable buyers or a genuine desire to keep them at the club means that whilst United aren’t necessarily blessed with quality back-up options in the heart of defence, they at least have options. Chris Smalling, last season’s best performer in that position, will also hope to be involved as the immediate choice once Bailly leaves in January, and given that he has yet to start under Mourinho, expect the England international to be pushing hard for a place in the starting XI in the months leading up to the competition.
Whilst, on current form at least, losing Bailly in January could be a big blow, it’s comforting to know that at least Manchester United’s new manager has options when his young centre-back travels to Gabon next year.