The only positive that Manchester United fans can take from this weekend is that they only fell one further point behind Manchester City atop the Premier League. Their cross-town rivals could only manage a draw against Southampton on Sunday afternoon, and, coupled with Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur both drawing in their games against Middlesbrough and Bournemouth respectively on Saturday, at least United didn’t fall eight points behind City.
Of course, that’s the only crumb of comfort to offer the club’s fans after Sunday’s 4-0 drubbing by Chelsea. Jose Mourinho’s return to Stamford Bridge after his sacking from the club last December couldn’t have gone any worse, with United falling behind in the first 30 seconds to Pedro’s goal and never recovering. The team’s defence were shambolic throughout, with Chris Smalling at fault in all four goals and Daley Blind little better at left back, but, as he’s often been this season during United’s more difficult games, Eric Bailly turned in another encouraging display at centre back. That was until he picked up an injury to his knee ligaments, and had to be substituted in the second half.
“He is injured and I am afraid he is badly injured,” said Mourinho after the match. “In his knee, in the ligament area. He feels it is really bad.”
As bad as the result was, and it was a terrible afternoon’s work, the damage to United’s season is minimal. The injury to the young Ivorian, given how good the former Villareal defender has been at offering United a presence and some sort of power in defence could be a crippling blow given how thoroughly inconsistent the club’s other centre backs have been. Smalling, Blind, Marcos Rojo and Phil Jones have all failed to fully convince in the role over the years, leaving Mourinho without an obvious, natural pairing other than Smalling and Blind, who flattered to deceive as a combination last season when Louis van Gaal didn’t play two holding midfielders in front of them.
Bailly has shown up every one of the club’s central defenders in his short time at the club and outperformed them all so far this season. Whilst his absence from England for January’s African Cup of Nations was always going to be a problem, not having him available for the next two and a half months, or even longer is a gigantic problem for Mourinho, and one he needs to solve fast.