In terms of new signings, Eric Bailly is respectively the least high profile and in his opening two competitive fixtures, most of the fans eyes were on Zlatan Ibrahimovic and understandably so given his superstar status. In his third game, on Friday night against Southampton, the pressure was again somewhat taken off the Ivorian centre-back with Paul Pogba making his Manchester United debut, since his return to the club from Juventus. But, despite the brilliance of Pogba and Ibrahimovic, the 22-year-old defender has earned his own plaudits by making a superb start to the season and his United career by picking up two Man of the Match awards in three competitive fixtures, he has certainly not looked out of place among some of the stellar names in world football. In the light of his strong performances partnering Daley Blind, teammates Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Michael Carrick have been rather vocal in their praise for the defender. Shaw, who has played in the back four alongside Bailly in all three of the opening fixtures, believes the man signed from Villarreal is exactly what the club needed.
“He’s what we need, he’s so composed on the ball and at the right times he knows when to clear it or when to play out from the back. Defensively he’s been solid, no-one’s got around him and I’m so happy that we have him here. He’s such a good player and from the last few games he’s a very important player for us now as well.”
The experienced Carrick has revealed that the best is yet to come from Bailly and has admitted he is surprised by the pleasure the Ivory Coast international seems gets out of defending.
“Eric seems to really enjoy defending, nowadays, it’s not as common as it used to be – I think defenders in general, around the league, have been concentrating more on playing with the ball. Eric is a true defender. He played really well at Wembley and I am sure he is going to get better and better.”
The third member of the squad to come out and single the man who reportedly cost £30 million out is United’s Spanish centre midfielder, Herrera. The 27-year-old Spaniard that also signed from a La Liga side feels that Bailly has already earned most of the sides trust on the field.
“I think Eric has a lot of talent, he’s a beast, he’s so, so strong, he’s quick and he’s a very smart player. He doesn’t take risks, so that’s important for us because we know when we have the ball, or when he has the ball, he is not going to put the team under trouble.”
Like Carrick, Herrera singled out his impressive performance in the FA Community Shield against the current Premier League champions, Leicester City. Bailly coped with the threat of the energetic Jamie Vardy extremely well, something most defenders in the division struggled with last season.
“When the opponent has the ball we have a very quick player, we can press up because the space is going to be covered by him. He’s very good in the air, very energetic, with every ball in-between he goes like crazy so he wins a lot of balls. He did it well against Jamie Vardy and that’s not so easy because he was one of the best players last season and he felt very good, he won almost every duel.”
It is worth noting that the rise of Eric Bailly has been fairly rapid, the defender has only played two seasons of first team football before joining Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United, although he has been playing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi – something that would aid anybody’s development. Villarreal signed him in January 2015 from La Liga rivals Espanyol for just £4.4million meaning the Spanish club have made a healthy profit on the player that Barcelona, PSG and Manchester City were all reportedly interested in.
In Bailly’s opening few games for the club people expected to see the player make a few mistakes and seem a bit nervy, similarly to when Patrice Evra’s career at Old Trafford kicked off. That was not because individuals doubted his ability, it was just something that can happen, given the fact that he is a young man in a new league and a new country, however, that has certainly not been the case, he has made a few rash challenges and the odd error, but he has made no more than say four or five others have on the field – he looks like he has all the assets to become a top class United defender for years to come, he has pace, strength, power and when he gets the ball at his feet he seems so calm, cool and composed and does not panic.
His cool, calm and collective nature was portrayed before he signed for United when he stepped up to take a penalty for his country in the 2015 African Cup of Nations final, which he scored, resulting in his country going on to win the competition. Bailly certainly meets the physical demands of the Premier League and his pace will come in handy when the Reds come up against the likes of Jamie Vardy and Hull City’s Abel Hernandez who like to run in behind.