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Eric Bailly: Where does he fit in at Manchester United?

We analyze how Bailly might fit into a Jose Mourinho system at Manchester United.

Eric Bailly
Eric Bailly started 35 games in the last La Liga season

As the dust settles on the signing of Eric Bailly to Manchester United, we ask the question, where does he fit in at Manchester United. Defence is the most obvious answer to that question, and Manchester United needed a central defender who could lead the defensive line. But, is he the answer to Manchester United’s defensive prefix-ed questions? We analyze.

Style and Technique

His biggest strength is his pace, he is in the Rafael Varane and Rio Ferdinand mode where he gives the attacking player the feeling that they have an extra yard of space and then uses his pace to pickpocket the poor fellow. He is extremely athletic and well built, so the Premier League shouldn’t hinder his developmental curve a lot. He is good on the ball as well, and sometimes (worryingly so) takes risks and loves playing out from the back.

Combined with these is the fact that he has a very good sense of positioning, with 5.43 clearances and 0.71 blocks on an average per game, which is more than any of the Manchester United centre-backs.

Probable position at United

Chris Smalling after a stellar season, where he established himself as the first name on the team-sheet for both Manchester United and England, most likely will continue to start for United. Eric Bailly can ideally slot in right beside him. There is an interesting sub-plot to the story though, as Chris Smalling throughout the season has played in the right center-back position beside Blind.

Chris Smalling though a brilliant defender is suspect with the ball at his feet, and has been prone to errors when he played in the left center back position for England. Bailly has played in the right of center-back position as well, and though is better on the ball, and much more two footed than Chris Smalling is, it remains to be seen if he can excel at the position.

Eric Bailly included formation
Possible 4-2-3-1 formation with Bailly

Competition for places at United

Daley Blind and Chris Smalling started as centre-backs for a record 55 games in all competitions. That is more than any United player in a season for 21 years. We still need to wait and see if Jose considers Blind as a central defender or a defensive midfielder. But, he is obviously one of those to provide competition for the young Ivorian. 

Phil Jones seemed to have regressed since he has come to United, and spent most of the last season on the bench or in the treatment room. Though highly unlikely, if he gets a run of games, he can provide stiff competition for the new United signing.

Marcos Rojo is another one of those candidates who can do a job at the center-back position. He had a very forgetful end of the season last time around, but he started his United career as a centre-back and had decent games in the position.

Is it the curtains for the crop of United Academy Graduates?

Manchester United pride themselves in their faith in the youth system. As many as 14 academy graduates were given their debuts by Louis van Gaal last season, though the number is somewhat abnormal and is skewed by the fact that United had more than 30 different injuries last season.

A number such as that was never going to be repeated under Mourinho but United’s present crop of Academy graduates, the likes of Fosu Mensah, Paddy McNair and Tyler Blackett to younger ones like Ro-Shaun Williams and Axel Tuanzabe might feel aggrieved and curtail their progression.

Is he the answer?

Quite simply no. United needed much more than a player who has 40 appearances in his career (in La Liga). They crave a defensive leader who would lead from the back. Eric Bailly provides a wonderful prospect for Manchester United, but getting accustomed to the Premier League will take him some time, as his predecessor from Villarreal, Gabriel Paulista found out at Arsenal.

He is not the finished product that United crave at the moment, and Mourinho isn’t one of those who would risk playing a player who still is getting used to the League. But, some players can no wonder grab an opportunity by its throat (see Anthony Martial), but that is rarer than the alternative. The physicality and pace of the premier league will definitely be something you need to get used to, especially for a centre-half.

All in all, it's encouraging to see United getting their transfer business sorted in the beginning of the summer. But United fans will hope, next time it’s someone whose name they don’t have to Google, perhaps someone whose name starts with ‘Z’ and ends with ‘N’.

Stats courtesy Whoscored.com

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