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Eric Bailly’s UEFA Super Cup suspension a blessing in disguise for Manchester United?

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were dealt a difficult hand in April after Eric Bailly’s suspension ruled him out of the Europa League Final. Daley Blind and Chris Smalling were excellent as United triumphed in the Europa League Final regardless of the suspension, but the woes experienced three months ago when it was revealed that Bailly would not play the final are now being relived among the Manchester United faithful.

Bizarrely, another review was conducted, and UEFA made the decision to suspend Bailly for a further two matches in European competition. The fact that it took three months to extend the ban is particularly suspicious and will fuel conspiracies around the officiating that have plagued affairs related to Real Madrid and Barcelona in recent years. Conspiracies aside, though, the fact of the matter is that United will have to navigate the most consistent attacking unit in football without their best defender, and potentially the second best in Marcos Rojo.

However, this could be a blessing in disguise for a Manchester United side that need to view the defence under the microscope. Exempting Chris Smalling, who thoroughly struggled last season, Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United generally defended very well regardless of personnel. Bailly and Rojo had seasons worth the greatest of superlatives last year, but they won’t always be available, and this is the perfect opportunity to test United’s defenders against the best opposition in Europe.

Real Madrid in the Super Cup is the perfect beta test for a football club aspiring to be at the pinnacle of world football. Jose Mourinho will be able to experiment with defenders who aren’t favourites to start against Real, allowing them to earn valuable experience ahead of a campaign in which they will be tested on both English and European fronts. More importantly, though, should United’s defenders struggle against Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho would have a month remaining in the transfer window to put away fires before they ignite.

Bailly and Rojo’s absence leaves four established central defenders at United; Daley Blind, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Victor Lindelof. Each of the four have their shortcomings, but all have looked largely comfortable during pre-season, with Smalling and Jones, in particular, appearing to have turned a new leaf this season.

The favourites start to remain new signing Lindelof, and Blind, who has been excellent during pre-season after ending last season with a string of excellent performances that allowed him to earn a starting spot alongside Bailly. Smalling started the Europa League final ahead of Jones, presumably to protect Blind aerially, and Mourinho could opt for the Englishman alongside Lindelof again, particularly if Ander Herrera plays in defensive midfield.

Mourinho could also opt for a back three to match Real Madrid’s front three, especially if Real Madrid utilise the 4-4-2 diamond formation that won them the Champions League. This would move Matteo Darmian into consideration for a starting place, giving United an option who offers more consistency than the likes of Smalling and Jones.

United have the options to replace Bailly and Rojo adequately, a feat few European clubs would manage, but this could be a test of the true ability of Manchester United’s defence. If Mourinho’s second-string defence can’t contain Real Madrid, that could be a warning for those involved, particularly Smalling and Jones. This should motivate United, even more, heading into one of the toughest matches of the season.

While Bailly’s suspension is unfortunate and undeserved and could damage United’s chances of winning, it could prove to be a change in fortune that alerts Mourinho to alter the defensive setup. Equally, it could allow other defenders in United’s squad to establish their stature in a competition that should only be considered a bonus for those involved this season.

Written by Aaron Moniz

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