Manchester United defender Eric Bailly is reportedly back in training after recovering from his knee injury sustained during the 4-0 Premier League defeat to Chelsea just over a month ago. The Ivorian was due to be back before the busy festive period, but returning to training this week seems to put him ahead of schedule. I doubt Bailly will be involved in the EFL Cup match against West Ham United at Old Trafford on Wednesday evening, or the visit to Everton in the Premier League at the weekend, but him returning ahead of the trip to the Ukraine to face Zorya Luhansk in the UEFA Europa League, or even the visit of Tottenham Hotspur in the Premier League three days later will be important for Manchester United, Jose Mourinho, and Bailly’s teammates.
Bailly was a £30 million signing from Villarreal in the summer, being named as Mourinho’s first signing for the club, one that he thought would be for the future, but as soon as he adapted to his teammates, the Ivorian was playing well, cementing his place in the team alongside Chris Smalling, who is also currently injured, being one of the best defensive players this season, which put United on the right track earlier this season. Since his injury a month ago, Phil Jones has cemented his place in te United starting XI, alongside both Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind, who have alternated alongside the English defender. Bailly returning could form a solid partnership with Jones, who seems to have turned a corner under Mourinho this season.
Bailly will be leaving Manchester United for much of January due to the African Cup of Nations which starts on the 14th January 2017, with the Ivory Coasts first game coming two days later against Togo. Bailly will be able to play for United for much of the festive period but will be expected to meet up with his teammates ahead of the competition, especially in that they have some scheduled friendlies ahead of the competition. The final of the AFCON is scheduled for the 5th February 2017, and presuming the Ivory Coast reach the final, Bailly will miss the following matches; West Ham United, Liverpool, Stoke City, Hull City and Leicester City, which are due to be played from the 2nd January 2017, until the 4th February 2017.
The Ivory Coast head into the tournament as the holders, winning the trophy for the second time in 2015. They will be expected to go far in the competition, and it will be a shock if Bailly is back at Old Trafford before the end of January. United will need to be able to deal with his loss again, as they have done over the past month. Injuries might be better by that time, with United currently struggling in defence with only three of five players fit for action, but Mourinho may opt to strengthen his side during the January transfer window with reports suggesting that Victor Lindelof of Benfica could move to the Theatre of Dreams, which will only be strengthened if the Portuguese side fail to reach the knockout stages of the UEFA Champions League this season. United will probably have other targets in mind, should Mourinho want to cover the loss of Bailly during January and into February, which will also strengthen the side ahead of the remainder of the season.