Eric Bailly is Manchester United’s best central defender but needs a partner to become the finished article


When it comes to football fans, they tend to be very self-protective regarding criticism of their own players. However, they are very fast to reveal their disapproval once the media praises an individual from another club. On the other hand, it’s been quite different for Eric Bailly, who has been appreciated by a lot of Premier League supporters.

Before his move to Manchester United, the Ivory Coast international completed only 35 appearances in La Liga throughout his 18 months at Villarreal, so it had been argued that his transfer last summer was too much too soon. Instead, Bailly has adapted to the Premier League with ease and is continuing to impress. 

With not many knowing who Bailly was when the club had signed him in June, the British media questioned his £30million price tag, understandably so.

Chris Smalling – who had a superb season last year from a personal perspective – was suspended at the beginning of the campaign, so Bailly was brought into the first team instantly and was named the official Man of the Match in his first two competitive starts for United. His subsequent partnership with Smalling has been one of the key positives for Manchester United this season.

Nevertheless, there is still quite a bit of room left for improvement. 

Alongside the no nonsense tackles, dominant aerial presence and pace, on a few occasions he has committed a reckless challenge or made a bizarre decision. Bailly has a tendency to attempt unnecessary last-ditch tackles and is sometimes caught out of position.

Although the small amount of mistakes he has made have not cost Manchester United any points, if they had done so, pundits would have been on his case, like John Stones and Shkodran Mustafi. This has become a normal thing for defenders; criticised for the mistakes they make but afforded no appreciation for good performances.

There’s no doubt that Bailly is the type of player that wants to take a chance, which can also mean doing more than just defending and helping the side to progress forward in attack. When playing close to the half-way line as a centre-back, it obviously leaves you open to getting caught out on the counter-attack, something Bailly seemingly needs to learn.

This happened during the Watford game back in September, when he was helping his side earn an equaliser, but Isaac Success received the ball and ran past Bailly, who was the last man in defence and horribly mis-timed his slide tackle. Ten seconds later, the attacker was brought down in the box and Troy Deeney scored from the penalty spot to secure all three points for his team.

Former Villarreal boss, Marcelino, had no doubts in the defender’s talents when he was brought in from Espanyol:

“He has everything. Speed, agility, co-ordination, technical talent, decision-making, he can scrap, he can fight, he heads, he passes, he whacks it when he needs to. He will be one of the best five defenders in the world. No doubt.”

Without a doubt, Marcelino is right – Bailly has been gifted with a lot of natural abilities and as time goes on he will evolve into a solid defender. Meanwhile, he is not the finished article just yet and has some way to go in order to become one of the best centre-backs in the game.

Manchester United have been suffering from defensive issues for quite some time now, but the way things have gone so far this term, Bailly has been hailed as the perfect individual who could go on to play at the heart of defence for many years to come.

Despite improvements in Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo – who were tipped to be sold after Jose Mourinho was announced as manager – neither defender has been able to forge a partnership with Bailly in defence. Only Smalling has played along with the Ivorian, but he’s yet to replicate his form of last season.

Once Mourinho digs into the summer transfer window for a long-term partner for Bailly – widely regarded as the best centre-back at the club – it could hand United a defensive partnership not witnessed since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic.