The 26-year-old was mobbed by his teammates and given a thousand pats on the back. One by one, Juan Mata, Bruno Fernandes, Alex Telles, Paul Pogba, David de Gea, Fred and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all walked to the centre-back to congratulate him.
Moments earlier, Bailly had produced a game-saving block to thwart a goal-bound shot from Aston Villa’s Keinan Davis. If it had gone in, Aston Villa would have drawn the game and Manchester United would have dropped two crucial points.
Thanks to Eric Bailly, though, the Reds walked away with all three points and are now level with rivals Liverpool at the top of the Premier League table.
Eric Bailly is Manchester United’s most reliable defender
That last-ditch block from Eric Bailly has earned him wide praise from his manager and teammates, but those who have followed his development know it’s a trademark.
The former Villarreal defender enjoyed his best spell under Jose Mourinho. He has battled injuries since, but shows his quality anytime he plays. The problem, though, is that he rarely stays fit.
Indeed, if not for Victor Lindelof's injury, Solskjaer would likely not have trusted Bailly with a place in the first team. However, since being handed a starting place, he has shown that he is the club’s most reliable defender.
A fully-fit Eric Bailly is also undoubtedly Manchester United’s best defender. He has now started four consecutive games for the Reds and has helped them keep two clean sheets in the process.
Eric Bailly is the perfect complement for Harry Maguire, who can be slow to react. On Friday, Bailly’s speed helped keep Anwar El-Ghazi and Ollie Watkins in check, as the Reds recorded an important victory.
Eric Bailly’s time to shine
After spending the last two years in and out of the treatment room, Bailly finally looks very fit and ready to go. The Maguire-Lindelof partnership has greatly improved this season, but Bailly just offers more.
He brings solidity to Manchester United's backline and has the pace to track the runs of attackers. He is also never afraid to put his body on the line, as shown by his game-saving block against Aston Villa.
“Towards the end you see the celebrations; that win means a lot. We should have played out the game and managed the game better towards the end though. But, a defender’s job sometimes is to clear it from the line or block it. We did that,” Solskjaer told Manutd.com.
“Deservedly so [Bailly was congratulated at the end] because he’s had such a difficult time with injuries. He’s such a likeable man. In that dressing room, everyone wants to see him succeed. We know how important he can be for us and tonight he was immense.”
It’s been a difficult last two years for Eric Bailly, but perhaps it’s now the Ivorian’s time to shine. His teammates and manager know his value, and he will be key to Manchester United’s bid to win the Premier League.Published 02 Jan 2021, 17:30 IST