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Mourinho’s choice defence

Manchester United’s four match US tour was far more successful than last year’s problem laden tour of Asia. Manager Jose Mourinho was able to experiment with different combinations of players while taking on fit MLS opposition and elite European teams.  In all of the different machinations tried by Mourinho a Victor Lindelof, Eric Bailly centre back partnership was conspicuous by its absence.

The obvious reason for this may be that Eric Bailly is not eligible for the European Super Cup on August 8th, Manchester United’s first meaningful game of the season. Although one could argue that Mourinho expected Bailly to receive a three-match ban due to the nature of Bailly’s conduct in getting sent off against Celta Vigo, the CEDB only officially made the decision on Monday 24th July, after United had already played three of their pre season matches; giving Mourinho ample opportunity to allow the only two central defenders that he brought to the club to play together.

Even more strange than the two central defenders not playing together is the fact that when United have played in a back four, that neither Bailly nor Lindelof have been played as a left centre back.  Both have been played exclusively on the right-hand side alongside either Jones or Smalling. If Mourinho was planning on playing the two together at some point in the future, surely he would have at least experimented with one of them on the left of a centre back pairing, even if they were not paired together?

As Bailly has played predominantly on the right during his entire tenure at Manchester United, one would have expected Mourinho to at least, try Lindelof on the left of a back two. Despite the fact that Lindelof prefers to be played on the right of a back two he did spend the majority of last season playing left centre back for Benfica after Luisao returned from injury so to play him there would not be out of the question.

Assuming Mourinho’s plan was simply to strengthen his squad with the signing of Victor Lindelof, rather than his first XI, the Portuguese schemer could have a few particular ideas in mind. Firstly, he might believe that Lindelof will need to play alongside a centre back with more experience of the Premier League than Bailly while he settles in at the club and adjusts to life in English football.

Secondly, he might believe that their styles of play do not balance well, with neither being particularly dominant in the air and both being comfortable with the ball at their feet. Finally, with a potentially large number of games ahead, Mourinho might plan on using different centre back partnerships against certain opposition or perhaps in certain tournaments, as he does when he rotates his goalkeepers.

Mourinho has spoken about deploying Bailly against particular opposition because ‘he’s the fastest one to play one against one at the back.’ The team was successful defensively last season despite using a multitude of different combinations, perhaps Mourinho believes he can continue to mix and match in this manner in the coming season and having a defined back four that plays every week is less important than picking the correct back four for the match?

With all of that said, there are still two preseason games to play where we could see the two men handpicked by Mourinho line up at the back for Manchester United.

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