Could Eric Bailly be Manchester United’s unsung hero in his debut season?
Eric Bailly arrived at Old Trafford for a reported £30 million fee in the early stages of this summer’s transfer window, and since putting pen to paper has performed well in Jose Mourinho’s newly deployed system.
The centre-half has been awarded a number of Man of the Match trophies already this season, and been rightly praised by both manager and press for his consistent levels of performance.
Similar to the Chris Smalling that Red Devils’ fans witnessed during Louis Van Gaal’s tenure as United manager, the 22-year-old Ivorian international has employed a commanding approach to his role within the squad, and was rightfully voted as the Player of the Month for August 2016.
However, Eric Bailly may not be defined as an outstanding hero come the end of the 2016/17 Premier League season – albeit if the Special One brings glory back to the Red half of Manchester before May.
With the arrivals of major personalities in Zlatan Ibrahimovic and world-record signing Paul Pogba, alongside Old Trafford talisman Wayne Rooney, many may cast a shadow over the no.3’s contribution to the Manchester United squad.
Though it goes without saying that if the former Villarreal man continues to perform at the same levels he has showcased during performances in pre-season, Premier League appearances and the disappointing start to United’s Europa League regime, he could become a candidate for the club’s player of the season.
Having started in all four of Manchester United’s competitive league games, as well as their opening Community Shield triumph over Leicester City and defeat to Feyenoord in the Europa League, there is no doubting the former La Liga defenders’ physical fitness – an aspect of him game highlighted by Jose Mourinho following his signature in June.
Bailly’s physicality and athleticism has proved an advantage in handling many Premier League attackers so far this term, with Southampton striker Shane Long and Hull’s number nine Abel Hernandez left frustrated in battle with the new United centre-half.
Not only has the Ivorian’s physicality resulted in clinical challenges in threating positions, but he has carried out his role with much discipline – picking up just a single yellow card in four league fixtures.
Many pundits argued prior to the beginning of the Premier League season that Eric Bailly’s raw defensive characteristics could affect his game and unnerve the youngster whilst he settled into the league, yet he seems to have silenced the critics so far during this campaign.
Perhaps the 22-year-old’s confidence has been instilled by the pragmatic approach of Jose Mourinho and the squad environment in mixing with proven winners in Zlatan Ibrahimovic, or more likely his stint with Villareal in a La Liga culture renowned for playing out from the back.
This confidence is highlighted directly within his pass success percentage throughout all four of his cup appearances, on top of Premier League performances for his new club.
With an average passing accuracy of 91.5% in the league, and a slightly lower 88.6% in cup features, many among the Old Trafford faithful will be hoping he evolves into a Rio Ferdinand type figure at Old Trafford in the coming years.
Whether selected to control physically strong Premier League attackers alongside Daley Blind, or deal with pacey striking threats with the help of Chris Smalling, it is evident that the young Ivorian is pivotal to Jose Mourinho’s plans at Old Trafford.
Although his potentially ball-winning interceptions, clinical tackles and ability to create first-phase attacking moves may not lead to the future prospect making the back-page headlines if Manchester United win silverware this season – he will most likely standout as one of the club’s unsung stars if he continues to maintain a promising level of performance throughout the 2016/17 regime.
By Ben Thomas
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