Manchester United look set to be without both captain Harry Maguire and first choice centre-back partner Raphael Varane for the first game post international break, as United travel to take on Leicester City. Maguire has been battling with a calf issue, and although still has an outside chance of playing, he’s unlikely to start.
Varane on the other hand picked up a groin injury while on International duty for France, the world cup winner was substituted during the Nations League final against Spain. Despite this undoubtedly being a blow for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the manager still has several defenders to choose from in their absence.
Earlier this year we wrote about the increased squad depth United now possess in defence, and it looks like that depth will be called into action with both Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf available.
This game will be a significant test for Bailly and Lindelöf if they are recalled into the starting line-up, Bailly’s only start this season has come in United’s disappointing Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham United, while Lindelöf lost his position as a starting centre-back once Raphael Varane arrived.
The lack of minutes for the pair means they may feel a sense of rust, however, this will need to be shaken off quickly if they are to deal with a strong and fast Leicester side. In some senses it feels like Lindelöf has progressed in the last year, being promoted to Sweden captaincy is a major step up in responsibilities at the national level, and Solskjaer will hope this can have a positive effect on his club football as well.
Meanwhile, Bailly looks like he’s stagnating at United, despite signing a new deal in April of this year. The Ivorian has represented his country at the Olympic Games this year, even scoring in the quarter final defeat against Spain, but aside from this there has been no real progression for the defender.
Bailly may feel the most aggrieved out of all United’s defenders in the sense that he is almost certainly fourth choice at centre-back despite signing that new deal this year. Any assurances over game time may have disappeared once the highly rated Varane was available on the market, Solskjaer has seemingly been guilty with not keeping promises over game time, something Donny Van de Beek will attest to.
In spite of this, the pair should be ready and raring to go, as is expected of every single United player.
Although the prospect of going into a game against Leicester without two first choice defenders is a scary prospect on paper, there may be a few factors in United’s favour. Firstly the fact that Leicester have been in poor form by their high standards this season is a plus, Brendan Rodgers hasn’t been able to make the Foxes click quite yet, Leicester sit all the way down in 13th going into the game.
Additionally, both teams go into this game after an international break, meaning most players have had a considerable time away from playing, which may benefit Lindelof and Bailly as they attempt to find match rhythm once more.
In some regards it may be forgotten that the pair are in fact both good players on their day, but United’s level of depth in defence and lack of opportunities have almost afforded both Lindelof and Bailly a status of substandard. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Lindelof and Bailly have both won trophies for United where Maguire hasn’t, so there should be no real questioning of their experience when they do need to fill in.
For Lindelof and Bailly, a good performance may lead to a run of games, with Varane set to be out for at least two weeks. Maguire is likely to return very soon, so the opportunity to impress may be limited to just this one game for one of the incoming pair, and Solskjaer will know he needs every player at their best to contend with the difficult upcoming run of fixtures.
Overall United will face a stern test against Leicester, but the game shouldn’t be lost on defensive changes for United, rather the result will be symptomatic of how Solskjaer deploys his team on the day and whether the players as a whole turn up with intensity after the break- something that should be expected at the very least.
Written by Sam Wilson