When Eric Bailly suffered a knee injury during the 4-0 loss to Chelsea, it seemed unthinkable that the side wouldn’t cope in his absence. But with Chris Smalling ruled out due to a broken toe shortly afterwards, the problems began to mount. With Daley Blind proving to be less than a commanding presence, it seemed United would continue to struggle in the heart of their defence.
As it’s turned out, United have coped admirably. Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo were both in danger of being sold this summer past when Mourinho took charge. The former has struggled for fitness for several seasons, barely making a dent on the first team. The latter, primarily played at left back under Louis van Gaal, was never a permanent solution to United’s problems.
The Dutchman wanted multi-faceted players; the Portuguese wanted specialists. But Jones and Rojo formed a solid partnership, with United shipping just two goals in their last four matches. Both are displaying improved levels of focus, determination and consistency that many assumed beyond them. It’s been encouraging to see both Rojo and Jones reintegrated into the team so smoothly, given their previous problems at United.
Bailly Back In Training
It’s great comfort to see Manchester Evening News reports that Bailly recently returned to training with the first team squad. The Ivory Coast international was the first purchase of the Mourinho era and turned heads with his combative, physical and no-nonsense defending. It’s a style which United have been crying out for over the last few years.
His return to the side surely shouldn’t be rushed. United don’t need defensive reinforcements at the moment and there is also a sting in the tail. The African Cup of Nations is due to start in Gabon in January and Bailly will miss up to one month given that Ivory Coast expect to progress to the knockout stages.
As such, perhaps Mourinho will be doubly glad that Smalling and Bailly’s replacements have performed so capably in their absence.