Man Utd win over Aston Villa shows Ole Gunnar Solskjaer already has transfer solution
Man Utd v Aston Villa: Match In Pictures
How different Manchester United’s recent seasons might have been had they been regularly able to call upon the trusty services of Eric Bailly. Aston Villa were a constant threat throughout Friday’s Old Trafford clash, and equalised through Bertrand Traore early in the second half, but United looked more secure at the back with Bailly alongside Harry Maguire in central defence – and might have not managed to clinch all three points without him.
Making a third straight Premier League start was something Bailly has not done since September 2017 having suffered a slew of injury problems throughout his time at the club.
But Maguire looked much better alongside the Ivorian than he has next to Victor Lindelof at other times this term – helped by Bailly covering for some of the Red Devils captain’s mistakes and making up for his team-mate’s dearth of pace. Ollie Watkins got very little against them all game.
It was indeed Bailly’s block that ensured United came away with victory, preventing Keinan Davis from a last-gasp equaliser for the Midlands visitors and he was swarmed by his team-mates after the final whistle in recognition of his contributions.
The only real blot on Bailly’s copybook for the evening was a yellow card for a poor challenge on John McGinn early into the second half after overrunning the ball, with the goal conceded to Traore far from his fault.
And maybe, just maybe, Bailly is showing that he can provide the answer to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s hopes for the January transfer window – fitness depending.
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It has been claimed that the Norwegian sees it as an absolute priority that a new centre-back is brought in, with Maguire and Lindelof proving too porous, or at least too vulnerable, a back-line pairing.
Solskjaer wants a fresh option to compete with Lindelof, and not just a defender to come in and serve purely as back-up, as United look to rival Liverpool for the title – having joined them on 33 points from 16 games by beating the Villans.
There is a real belief that a title challenge is genuinely possible even in spite of the disappointments that United have suffered this season, namely their early Champions League exit.
It was actually Bailly who was partnered with Maguire for the embarrassing 6-1 defeat to Tottenham but even in Lindelof’s 13 league appearances this season, 17 goals have been conceded.
Last year it was a fairly respectable 33 goals conceded in Lindelof’s 35 appearances and United’s defensive record turned out to be only worse than Liverpool and Manchester City – the league’s top two.
But Lindelof has been shaky this term and individually, Bailly – who is still just 26 years old – is the superior player and has the qualities to be a genuinely top-class Premier League centre-back.
As a unit United look a better team with him in there, particularly while defending counter-attacks. If they can keep the African fit and available, there is plenty to suggest the former Villarreal defender can become Maguire’s long-term partner.
He may well save United having to sign a new defender in the current window, provided he does not suffer a fresh niggle any time soon.
It has been claimed that Dayot Upamecano of RB Leipzig remains a long-term target but that United are unlikely to move for the Frenchman this month.
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It is not clear whether there is another alternative addition who United rate as highly as Upamecano whom they could make a bid for in the next few weeks to satisfy Solskjaer’s wish.
Instead it appears probable that the United hierarchy are set on Upamecano, and would prefer to wait until the Frenchman’s release clause of below £40million becomes active in the summer of 2021 to make a move for him rather than sign someone else now.
And so if that is indeed the case, perhaps Bailly can state his case to be a starter provided he can enjoy a long-awaited – and much-needed – consistent run in the team between now and then.
That he has managed several successive starts in England’s top flight for the first time in so long – and has played 90 minutes four times since Boxing Day – can only be a positive. And on current form, Bailly has to start United’s next Premier League match away at leaders Liverpool on January 17.
If he can maintain this level of performances, he will give United’s hierarchy something to think about – and at worst he may go into next season a very strong third choice option behind Maguire and someone like Upamecano.
While it has previously been thought Bailly cannot play alongside Maguire, the past three matches against Everton, Wolves and now Villa have appeared to indicate otherwise – with an understanding developing.
And that relationship can only improve if they manage to get more and more minutes together. Solskjaer will hope he can pair them together regularly between now and May.
If they can, United may find themselves with a rearguard capable of helping to pick up the narrow and hard-fought wins that United will need if they want to claim a first title since 2013.
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