Player Analysis: Eric Bailly, Manchester United’s next defensive General to be

By  - Sep 14, 2017


When Jose Mourinho was appointed as Manchester United manager last season, he gave the club a list of four targets he wanted. While Paul Pogba grabbed the headlines with the then record transfer fee paid for him, Eric Bailly was Mourinho’s first signing for the club. The defender was acquired at a price of £30m from Spanish side Villarreal. In his debut season for the club, Bailly managed to play a pivotal role as United won the Community Shield, League Cup and the Europa League.

Defensive solidity

Mourinho has always relied on centre-backs who are good at defending unlike most managers today who also look at ball playing skills of the central defenders. In his first season for Chelsea in 2004-05, his team conceded a meager 15 goals in 38 games. It’s well known that Mourinho’s team don’t concede much. So, it is no surprise that Bailly fits the criteria to be a central defender in Mourinho’s scheme of things. Villarreal goalkeeper Areola in 2015-16 had 15 clean sheets which made him third in the list for the golden glove, a reflection of how good Bailly was as a centre-back for the Yellow Submarine.

The 23-year-old is also comfortable playing as a right centre-back or right-back. Mourinho deployed him as a right centre-back for United in a couple of occasions when his side was plagued by injuries to key men. Playing Bailly at right centre-back made perfect sense. It enabled Antonio Valencia to move forward without being too worried about a counterattack. Bailly’s pace meant that he could sweep up all balls that were played into the vacant spaces which opened up when Valencia charged forward. The Ivorian’s anticipation skills enabled him to get there early compared to an opposition winger who could have easily exploited that space.

Another strength in Bailly’s defensive game is that he intercepts a lot of crosses which are driven into the six-yard box from the wide areas. These moments in the game go unnoticed as bthey prevent shots from being taken.

.These crosses are potentially very dangerous as they make it very difficult for the goalkeeper to get to them thanks to their out-swinging nature. Bailly prevents a lot of shots from being taken by making such vital interceptions in the six-yard area.

These crosses are potentially very dangerous as they make it very difficult for the goalkeeper to get to them thanks to their out-swinging nature. Bailly prevents a lot of shots from being taken by making such vital interceptions in the six-yard area.

He also does most of the defensive work on the right flank as Valencia is often caught out of position in a majority of occasions during a game. It is during such moments that Bailly makes some crucial tackles to prevent crosses from making its way into the United penalty box by making some well-timed tackles.

Last season Mourinho often used a 6-2-2 or a 6-3-1 formation against big teams which play proactive football. The use of 6-3-1 or 6-2-2 means that the midfielders are often left underloaded compared to the team which is attacking. To prevent such situations, it is imperative that one of the centre-backs steps up and prevents the opponents from exploiting the lack of numbers in midfield.

Bailly is a master at this. He anticipates passes into midfielders who are free of markers and ends up intercepting most of the passes. Without his interceptions, there would have been ample time for the midfielders to turn and make their next move towards goal.

The Ivorian also is quick to close down spaces which means he also offers the possibility of getting ahead of the midfielder before the pass reaches the latter.

The following snap demonsrates how Bailly helps United win back possession in the middle of the park.

Good with the ball at his feet

While Bailly is better known for his work off the ball, his on-ball actions are good too. He is not one to clear the ball at the first sign of opponent pressure. He looks for better options to move the ball into advanced zones to help his team to launch attacks.

Thus, it is no surprise that Barcelona was also interested in acquiring his services. If Bailly does not find a good option to advance the play, he is often prepared to dribble forward before finding a passing option ahead of him. This helps his team evade pressure and exploit opponent space between the lines. At times, if he sees space between the opponent lines, he also has the passing range to find his teammates in those spaces between the lines with measured lobbed passes.

A lack of temperament often costs Bailly

If there is one quality that’s missing in Bailly, it’s his lack of composure and the absence of a good temperament. When he is off the ball and facing a tough time winning the ball back from him, he often resorts to making dangerous tackles which leave him vulnerable to go into the referee’s bok. He got sent off twice last season for getting involved in incidents which should not have affected him. As a result of getting sent off in the

He got sent off twice last season for getting involved in incidents which should not have affected him. The defender missed the Europa League final which United went on to win and thus confirm their progress to the Champions League.

Conclusion

Bailly is set to become one of the crucial components of Mourinho’s Manchester armoury. Like Kurt Zouma and Raphael Varane who made such great strides in their career under the Portuguese, Bailly looks good enough to become one of the best defenders in Europe. His on-the-ball game can improve as he often tries to do too much with the ball at his feet which can cost him in the Premier League. However, with age on his side, he has ample time to improve and help Manchester United in their quest to achieve their long lost dominance in England and the European stage.