Manchester have reportedly struck a deal with Villarreal for their highly rated centre-back Eric Bailly, and will now commence negotiations with the Ivorian regarding personal terms.
The 22-year-old centre-back Eric Bailly is destined to be Jose Mourinho’s first arrival at the club. Spanish daily AS reported on Saturday that the Manchester based club would pay £31.3 million to secure the services of the Ivorian defender.
Bailly was instrumental in his side’s memorable Europa League run in the 2015/16 season. The defender played in seven European games, and also made 25 appearances in Spain’s top tier. He formed a solid partnership with Victor Ruiz, which was pivotal in his side’s fourth place finish in the La Liga. Moving to United would see the defender miss out on the Champions League, but would also mean playing for one of the world’s biggest football clubs.
As per WhoScored, Bailly averaged 4.7 clearances and made 2.6 interceptions per game. His strong and athletic presence would certainly add a lot of solidity to United’s defence, but given his steep asking rate, it may seem a risky investment. Still only 22, Bailly has a lot of room for improvement and is far from a finished product. He is also not a composed figure on the ball, and is known for throwing away possession on a number of occasions. The Ivorian’s discipline on the field is questionable, as he tends to dive into needless challenges at times.
Chris Smalling made a terrific start to the 2015/16 campaign. If there was one player who stood out for United until the turn of the year except for David de Gea, it was the English centre-back. Smalling hardly put a foot wrong in the first half of the league, but his performances took a massive hit once 2016 kicked in. An end of the season award was the silver lining in what was a roller-coaster ride for Smalling.
It was a similar season in many ways for the entire Manchester United squad. Daley Blind, one of former manager Louis van Gaal’s proteges in the Dutch setup, was often asked to do a bit too much on the playing field. Blind never looked at home in any position he played. There were games where he was the star of the show, but on a whole, he was a letdown. By the looks of it, Jose Mourinho is not a fan of the Dutch defender and given Bailly’s stats, the Ivorian seems to be an upgrade on Blind.
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Marcus Rojo had a season to forget while he deputized for long-term absentee Luke Shaw on the left side of defence. The Argentine made just 16 appearances and failed to look convincing in any of them. What worked for Rojo is his ability to win back the ball, but apart from that he looked all over the place, and seemed off the pace when he was tested against the bigger clubs.
How does Bailly fare against United’s centre-backs?
Given United’s need for defence reinforcements, Mourinho has turned his eye to the La Liga. Here’s a comparison between the Ivorian and the three centre-backs, via Squawka:
Eric Bailly is a more athletic and physical persona compared to the trio of United appearances. The Ivorian has imposed his presence on pitch, averaging more interceptions, blocks and clearances. Known to be a no-nonsense player, he prefers to clear his lines, rather than pass his way out of trouble.
Jose Mourinho has shown a keen interest in the Villarreal man because of his physical presence on the field. While Daley Blind has often come under the cosh for not being physically tuned for the Premier League, Bailly may just be the man to replace him.
Is Bailly the answer to United’s defensive woes?
While the Ivorian has the potential to make it big with United, the truth is he is still raw. It would take him a fair share of time to get acquainted with the fast-paced and physical nature of the Premier League. If Mourinho decides to let Blind stay, it would be a tussle between the duo as well as Marcus Rojo, who would revert to his preferred role with the recovery of Luke Shaw.
Bailly’s performances may have been impressive in the La Liga, but England is a totally different ball game. Like Rojo and Blind, the 22-year-old can also operate as a full-back, but isn’t adept to surging upfront. However, his ability to dribble out of trouble and cause breakages in play, may make him a rock at the heart of United’s back line.