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MOTM: Eric Bailly back to his best in defensive masterclass

Manchester United play their final Europa League group match on a frozen pitch in Ukraine against bottom-of-the-group Zorya Luhansk. United go into the game second in the group, one point behind leaders Fenerbahce and two ahead of third-placed Feyenoord, so anything could still happen. This is reflected in the starting XI, as, aside from Ashley Young at right back, United started with a team that wouldn’t look out-of-place in their biggest games, with Eric Bailly’s return from injury being a highlight.

The first half was a mostly uneventful, cagey affair, as United failed to string enough decent passes together to break through a weak  Zorya defence. While United had the vast majority of possession, Zorya had the better attempts on goal for most of the half. The second half wasn’t much difference, although United did create better chances. Henrikh Mkhitaryan opened the scoring with a great solo effort, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic rounded things off after beating the offside trap and latching on to a clever through-ball from Paul Pogba.

On another day, United might’ve had a more convincing win. Not because they were unlucky, but because their attackers underperformed against what was a very poor defence. Mkhitaryan came to life for a few moments in the second half, with some penetrative passing and good runs, but was ineffective throughout the first half. Juan Mata also had moments, in particular a great through pass to Wayne Rooney, who was too slow to get to it, but that’s about as much as the attack contributed.

Pogba didn’t have his best game, but made some great passes, the best of which was his assist to Ibrahimovic. Also deserving of a mention was Sergio Romero in goal. He may have expected to not have to do as much as he did, but he made a couple of good saves in the game.

That being said, the main star of the game has to be the man at the back returning from injury, Bailly. You wouldn’t notice that this is his first game in over a month, as he was back playing to the same level as he did before. It’s the same Bailly United have been missing, his tough tackling and aggressive pressing was on show, and frustrated some respectably performing Zorya attackers. He even had a chance at the other end of the pitch, with an overhead kick that landed in the opposition goalkeeper’s safe hands.

His aggression did nearly get the better of him, with a misjudged header leading to a collision that got the United physio on the pitch, and he was lucky not to get sent off for kicking an opponent who took Bailly down with him after another one of his strong challenge. But Bailly still managed to show exactly what United have been missing in defence, and exactly what he is capable of.

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