Manchester United won’t have one of their best players ahead of the UEFA Super Cup next week against Real Madrid.
Even though The Red Devils will be almost at full strength ahead of Tuesday’s game, Jose Mourinho will have to deal with an important absence. Eric Bailly will not be available for this match after he was sent off in the second leg of the UEFA Europa League semifinals against Celta Vigo last season. And there is no question United will miss him.
Even though Bailly has only been in Old Trafford one year, he is already the top defender in the squad. In fact, the 23-year-old has the potential to become the best centre back since the days of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. He is quick on his movements, and quite strong on the tackle. His aerial ability is off the charts. And if that was not enough, he is also quite capable with the ball on his feet.
His absence will be huge for United, especially if we consider they will face one of the top attacking units in Europe over the last five years. The question that Mourinho must answer is who will take Bailly’s place in the starting XI. Fortunately, there are several options that can step up and do a good job.
Based on last season, this is the most likely alternative to start alongside Victor Lindelöf. Smalling dealt with injuries last season, but he still logged in 13 starts and 18 total EPL appearances. The former Fulham defender has not progressed as many expected when he was younger, but he remains a capable player. And he has enough European experience under his belt to not be fazed against Real Madrid’s attacking unit.
At this point, Jones is the fourth-option at CB for Mourinho. The former Blackburn Rovers star registered 18 EPL starts last season, but the main problem is that he could not convince the manager. And in comparison to Smalling, Jones can also operate as a DM or as a RB – on both roles he has looked better in the past. So it does not seem likely he would start against Real Madrid, especially considering what’s at stake.
Blind registered 23 Premier League appearances last season, with 20 of those being starts. He can definitively play as a centre back, but fans have not forgotten about his mistake against Manchester City. And why would Mourinho put him there, when he can help much more in other areas of the pitch? Blind can operate better as a left back or as a defensive midfielder, so it does not make much sense to put him at CB. Especially is there are other alternatives on the squad.
Improvise Somebody Else
This is highly unlikely. In fact, Mourinho’s chances of doing something like this are close to zero. But let’s think outside the box for a minute. What if Mourinho wanted to have a clean touch from the back? The presence of Nemanja Matic and Ander Herrera in midfield could, for instance, allow Michael Carrick to play at centre back. Or maybe Matteo Darmian plays on that role, considering both Blind and Luke Shaw can operate at left back.
As we stated, however, those are unlikely options. But one never knows with Mourinho.
At the end of the day, it seems either Smalling or Jones will take Bailly’s place in the starting XI. And we can only hope whoever starts does a good job, because the defensive line will need to be at their best if United want to return home with the UEFA Super Cup title under their belts.