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The Ralf Rangnick Era: Five players who could flourish and five who could leave

Manchester United started off the Ralf Rangnick era with a top performance against Crystal Palace last weekend, running out 1-0 winners in a game where United could have scored five. The instant impact of Rangnick’s arrival was evident from the first whistle, with United pressing high up the pitch and recovering the ball quickly. This type of pressing and control is a different style of playing in comparison to recent years, so in this article we’ll take a look at five players who could flourish and five who may be heading for the exit:

Five Who Could Flourish:

1. Fred

The first player in this list is almost an obvious pick after recent performances. The 28-year-old Brazilian has been hugely impressive in the last four games, sticking to his best attributes of breaking up play and providing energy in United’s midfield. 

If Fred was capable of doing this consistently then there’s no doubt around the fact that he’d be considered one of the top midfielders in the league, however this has not been the case during his time at United thus far. Fortunately, with Ralf Rangnick’s preference for fast and high pressing football, Fred may be better suited to perform to his best ability more consistently.

Already proving to be the matchwinner in his first game under Rangnick, Fred produced a brilliant performance- deservedly winning man of the match. With all of this being said, under Rangnick’s expert coaching and being well suited to United’s new system, Fred is one of the players who will look to improve the most over the next six months; and hopefully finally fulfil his full potential for United.

2. Victor Lindelof

Victor Lindelof is a player who may be surprised that he’s currently featured so frequently in the United starting eleven, however an injury to Raphael Varane has afforded the Swede an opportunity to stake a claim for a permanent spot. The 27-year-old has actually been one of United’s better performing defenders this season, although that’s not saying too much. 

Having just been promoted to Sweden captaincy it seems Lindelof has gained more maturity and this is showing in his performances. During Rangnick’s first game in charge, Lindelof was aggressive and tenacious when pressing further up the pitch. Additionally, he was able to pass out accurately and switch the play with ease, which was to the benefit of United’s charging fullbacks and forwards.

It’s likely that when Varane comes back from injury Lindelof will be delegated to the bench once more, however this isn’t certain as club captain Harry Maguire has had an awful season so far. Whether Lindelof manages to become a regular starter or not, there’s some good signs for a high level of performance from the Swedish captain, suited to Rangnick’s affinity for pressing high and aggressively.

3. Mason Greenwood

Mason Greenwood burst onto the scene at United as a teenage sensation, managing to bag a hugely impressive 19 goals in the 2019/2020 season. While not quite reaching those numbers last season, Greenwood has started this season well- scoring some brilliant goals already. 

Greenwood has already scored five goals in all competitions thus far and has the potential to surpass his impressive haul of 19 from a couple of seasons ago. The 20-year-old registered an assist in Rangnick’s first game in charge and scored a stunning goal in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys

The deadly forward was largely restricted to a role on the wing in recent years, but with Rangnick’s preferred 4-2-2-2 system Greenwood may be able to start as one of the two strikers more regularly, allowing him ample opportunity to score. 

Rangnick has already spoken about Greenwood’s talent and potential, having been impressed with his performances so far this season, which means Greenwood should mature into an even more deadly forward under Rangnick.

4. Diogo Dalot

United have relied on Aaron Wan-Bissaka as the right-back option heavily during his time at the club, while Portuguese Diogo Dalot has been second choice. Dalot, who joined from Porto, was touted as one of the most promising fullbacks in world football when he initially signed. 

Unsurprisingly, the 22-year-old has failed to live up to the hype just yet, although there is still ample time for him to develop his game. Dalot moved to AC Milan in 2020 for a moderately successful loan spell, which many thought would lead to his permanent sale. 

This didn’t happen though, and it now looks likely that Dalot may be able to displace out of form Bissaka for the starting spot in the team. As mentioned previously, Rangnick likes proactive football with high pressing and attacking fullbacks- something more suited to Dalot’s natural game than Wan-Bissaka’s. 

In the game against Crystal Palace Dalot was a constant threat, overlapping and knocking balls into the box all game. In addition to this he came very close to scoring at the end of the first half after a nice run. Rangnick may well just prefer to use Dalot as his starting right-back, which could lead to the Portuguese’s best run of form yet.

5. Jadon Sancho

Jadon Sancho’s start to life at United has not quite been what he or the fans may have expected, however in the last week or so there are signs that he might start hitting form. Sancho struggled under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, spending more time on the bench than he would have liked. 

However, it looks like Sancho may be granted a first team role under Rangnick, playing in one of the number 10 roles alongside Bruno Fernandes.  After scoring twice in one week under Michael Carrick, Sancho may start performing to his best ability under a new manager who actually tried to sign him several years ago.

Rangnick recognises the talent in the young English forward after presumably watching him intensely during his career at Borussia Dortmund. Playing in an inside 10 role may benefit Sancho, who can start linking up with the strikers and fullbacks more cohesively, which should ultimately lead to a flurry of goals and assists.

Five Who Could Leave:

1. Anthony Martial

After announcing himself in dramatic style against Liverpool in 2015, Anthony Martial has never fully reached that same height again. The Frenchman has had periods of good form but has never consistently impressed or shown enough to be a first choice Manchester United striker. 

Since the arrivals of the likes of Edinson Cavani and Jadon Sancho, Martial has been starved for game time or any kind of good form. News also broke this week from Martial’s agent Philippe Lamboley, stating the striker wishes to leave the club in January due to his lack of game time, which all but confirms the exit is looming for the once promising 26-year-old.

2. Eric Bailly

Eric Bailly is a player that has only recently signed a new deal with United, yet presently sits as fourth choice centre-back. The Ivorian has expressed his desire to play games and help the club, yet under Solskjaer this opportunity was not presented. Bailly has a high level of talent but his tendency to make rash decisions holds him back from being selected week in week out. 

Theoretically Bailly fits in with Rangnick’s high intensity pressing football perfectly, but it looks like he will have to settle with being a squad player after the arrival of Raphael Varane and the good form of Victor Lindelof, plus the fact that it’s likely club captain Harry Maguire will be retained as a starter. All of this being said, Bailly will probably look to seek another club in order to gain more playing time.

3. Dean Henderson

Dean Henderson looked very likely to replace David de Gea as United’s number one goalkeeper towards the end of last season, however a De Gea resurgence has shut down any chance of that happening. 

Henderson possesses enormous amounts of talent for such a young goalkeeper, and certainly doesn’t lack the confidence necessary to be United’s first choice goalkeeper. Henderson played in United’s final Champions League group game against BSC Young Boys, putting in a confident display complete with elements of a sweeper- keeper. 

This would be to Rangnick’s liking, however the United manager has made it clear that De Gea is number one, which could indicate rumours about a potential loan or permanent move away could become something more concrete.

4. Jesse Lingard

The longstanding saga surrounding Jesse Lingard and his United future should finally come to a close under Rangnick’s reign as manager. While there are no doubts surrounding the quality Lingard has, it’s clear the academy graduate wants to be starting games, deservedly so too. West Ham looked like a likely destination after an impressive loan spell there last season, although Newcastle United are starting to show interest as well. 

Lingard will suit Rangnick’s style of pressing, but it feels like it’s too late for the 28-year-old to revive his United career at this point.

5. Juan Mata

Juan Mata has been an excellent servant to United since joining back in David Moyes’s short spell as manager. Mata has always oozed class when playing but he finally seems to be at the stage where his body can no longer cope with the rhythm and intensity of the Premier League. 

The 33-year-old has only made three appearances so far this season and there have been suggestions Mata may prefer a return to Spain sooner than later. It’s distinctly obvious Mata is the wrong type of profile to carry out the intensive pressing style of play United are expected to develop over the next six months, meaning a January or summer exit is on the cards.

In addition to the players mentioned above there are still several futures that could pan out either way- including the likes of Donny van de Beek, Nemanja Matic and Paul Pogba. Rangnick will be keen to trim the squad down and assemble a team more in his image over the next few months, and if successful United may finally compete for the Premier League title once more.

Written by Sam Wilson

Six Manchester United players who could be facing the axe as early as January

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could choose to axe up to six (maybe more) players from his squad this season with the January transfer window vastly approaching. Solskjaer has 28 experienced players in his squad this season, not to mention the talented youth players earning their plaudits from the academy. This means that there are a number of players who could be seen as surplus to requirements.

During the summer transfer windows, it was expected that United would get rid of a lot of the deadwood at the club but the post-coronavirus transfer market was not very positive for United, who needed buyers for the players they wanted to sell. It would have allowed United to strengthen on key areas ahead of the new season. Perhaps the much-needed changes could be made in January, or beyond?

United initially started the season in fine form with two wins and one draw in the first three Premier League matches before the first international break of the season, beating Leeds United 5-1 and Wolverhampton Wanderers 1-0 – drawing 1-1 with Southampton. It was a positive start to the season, which should have only got better for United – but there was a problem lying in wait.

After the first international break, United beat Newcastle United 4-1 in the league, were beaten 2-1 by Young Boys in the Champions League, beat West Ham United 2-1 in the league before a 1-0 defeat against the Hammers in the Carabao Cup, then losing 1-0 to Aston Villa in the league, beating Villarreal 2-1 in the Champions League and final, drawing 1-1 to Everton in the league before the second international break.

Here are six players with limited futures at Manchester United…

Diogo Dalot, 22 – right-back

The Portuguese right-back has made just five appearances for the club this season, playing a total of 288 minutes of football, which suggests his future could be up in the air. Granted, he was only given the minutes he has in rotation, more importantly because Aaron Wan-Bissaka was sent off in the Champions League against Young Boys, therefore he was suspended for the win over Villarreal – the suspension now lasts two matches.

This will give Dalot some minutes on the pitch this season, providing an appeal for the two-match suspension is not won by United, meaning he will likely play in the first group stage match against Atalanta on the 20 October. When he has played this season, the Portuguese right-back has looked terrible – although that may change in the future if he is given more time on the pitch, but that seems doubtful.

It is suggested that Jose Mourinho would be interested in signing the player for the second time in his career, this time for AS Roma, but it would all depend on whether the Portuguese manager had the money for a potential deal, considering the player has more than two and a half years left on his contract. Based on the fact that Solskjaer wanted to sign Kieran Trippier in the summer, it would suggest Dalot is not wanted.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 2.5/5

Phil Jones, 29 – central defender

He did not play for the entire 2020/21 season and last played a match for the United first team in January 2020. This latest in a long line of knee injuries seems to have cost him dearly. He has played twice for the U23’s so far this season, getting 180 minutes of football under his belt. He was on the bench against West Ham in the Carabao Cup, which so far is the only appearances he has made at senior level, despite not playing.

It was expected that he would be involved in the first team, at least in the Premier League after not being named in the Champions League squad. But other than the West Ham match in the Carabao Cup, Jones has not featured for United. That could be a worrying sign because of his injury or it could be just to protect him, s he actually recovers from the knee injury.

It is hard to see Jones get ahead of Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane, Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly, which is seemingly the pecking order at the club this season. There is also Teden Mengi, who could also be ahead of Jones, possibly even Bailly. I think for him to have a career, leaving United is the best option both for the player and the Old Trafford club. Getting back to his best, which has not really been shown will be hard.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3.5/5

Eric Bally, 27 – central defender

The Ivory Coast international started the season late after his participation in the Olympics in Tokyo this summer. He has only featured in one match, playing 90 minutes in the 1-0 defeat to West Ham in the Carabao Cup. Bailly has been on the bench for United in a further five matches, but so far has not been used as a substitute. His injury record is also questionable, like Jones’ record at the club.

Bailly has the likes of Maguire, Varane, Lindelof, Jones and Mengi to contest with in the central defensive positions and it seems likely that both Varane and Maguire will be the main partnership, with Varane stepping in as the third-choice player, leaving Bailly, Jones and Mengi to contest for the fourth-choice player in this position. It seems unlikely that Bailly will play a lot of football – unless there are further injuries.

The rotation option seems to be the best option for him and he could perhaps contest Lindelof’s place in the team replacing him, which would involve him playing to the best of his abilities, not jumping into any rash tackles and maintaining his fitness level and not suffering any injuries – which seems unlikely in itself. It could be that the player will opt to leave, despite signing a new contract less than six months ago.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3/5

Jesse Lingard, 28 – attacking midfielder/winger

It was expected that his loan spell with West Ham last season would have been the precursor to him leaving the club this season, but the player decided to fight for his place, which still is not guaranteed at the club. Lingard has played more football than others this season, also achieving more but even that is not a guarantee that he will be chosen by Solskjaer to be a regular starting player in the team.

Lingard has six appearances for the club this season, playing just 136 minutes of football, scoring two goals and getting one assist. One of his goal was the winner in the league against the Hammers, with the assist coming against Villarreal in the Champions League – with Cristiano Ronaldo scoring the goal to get United their first points in the competition this season. It was good to see him achieve that to be fair.

It would seem unlikely that Lingard and will push the likes of Jadon Sancho, Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Bruno Fernandes out of their places this season but I am sure he will have a good go at doing so. Lingard’s contract will expire at the end of the season, so unless a new contract is signed, his future at the club seems over. United could sell him in January or lose him on a free in the summer.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 4/5

Juan Mata, 33 – attacking midfielder

He is the fifth oldest player at he club this season, with two of those ahead of him being Lee Grant, 38 and Tom Heaton, 35 with both not likely to play much football this season. The oldest player is Cristiano Ronaldo, 36 with Edinson Cavani, 34 just ahead of him. Mata has made one appearance for United this season, playing 62 minutes in the Carabao Cup defeat to West Ham.

He has been on the bench seven times this season, but was not utilised for the last two Premier League matches, the 1-0 defeat to Villa and the 1-1 draw with Everton. When the likes of Rashford and Amad Diallo are back to full fitness and able to feature for United, there is a chance that Mata could not find much involvement on the pitch this season. It was not a great performance, although that might improve as the season goes on.

Of course, with his contract expiring in the summer, it is possible that Mata could retire from the game or even head into coaching with United, which is something that could be done whilst his current contract is active. He has been a positive player for United in his time at the club but it would seem that his best days are behind him. He has a good footballing mind, which is a shame to lose him, but it’s better not to plod on like this.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 3.5/5

Donny van de Beek, 24 – central midfielder/attacking midfielder

The Dutchman only arrived at United last season and had a tough first season at the club with not a lot of playing time and only contributing one goal and two assists for the club. This season, it seems tougher for him as despite making three appearances, he has only played 141 minutes of football, which is not enough for a player of his calibre. That said, he’s not competing with Nemanja Matic, Scott McTominay or Fred for a place.

United have a lack of defensive minded midfielders at the club with just Matic the experienced one and McTominay playing as big a role in that position as he can. Perhaps a change in formation will give other players a chance but it is the likes of Bruno Fernandes, Paul Pogba and to a point, Lingard that he’s competing with for a place in the team. That is why it is tough for him to get a place in the squad, despite what some fans say.

It is suggested that Van de Beek is seeking to leave the club in January, which was an avenue that he tried in the summer with his agent speaking to Everton and the move being denied by Solskjaer. The Norwegian manager says he has a place in the team, but in the early stages of the season, I can see why the player is frustrated but giving up without a fight is not really a good thing to do.

Likelihood of player leaving in January: 4/5

Solskjaer has a talented squad at United this season, a squad that at this time is underperforming with some supporters on social media calling for him to be sacked, which seems to be the case with fans like that – which has happened for each manager post-Sir Alex Ferguson; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. These so-called supporters think they have the answers, with many suggesting that Mourinho was the one.

To see this time and time again shows that modern-day football supporters have no patience. They seem to assume that success can be provided for a price, which is never the case. With any manager, there are problem period and period of success – that is part and parcel in football. In a 20 team league, there can only be one winner but the expectation of these ‘United fans’ seems to suggest that United should win all the time.

The manager can only do part of the work. You can see this when these social media fans credit a win to individual brilliance but blame a draw or a defeat on the manager. It just does not make much sense. There will always be players who will moan about certain things but instead of moaning, fighting for a place and proving your worth is the best thing to do. Not every player can play a big part during the course of the season.

Let’s see what January, then the summer transfer brings for United. In terms of players at the club, there is a little about of work to get the players in for the problem positions and that should be achievable by the club and the manager. More importantly, United are still backing their manager, United are two points off the top spot in the Premier League and one point off the top of their group in the Champions League. Don’t panic!

Written by John Walker

Eric Bailly: Stick or Twist?

In the Summer of 2016, Manchester United signed Eric Bailly for £30 million, with the defender being the first official signing made by Jose Mourinho. On the day he signed, BBC Sport reported that Mourinho had stated; ‘Eric has the potential to become one of the best around’, high praise for a player who was relatively unknown after signing from Villareal at only 22 years of age. 

At the time United, and its fans, were crying out for a dynamic centre-back, however, five years later, United have Harry Maguire, Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof in that position, as well as players such as Scott McTominay who could fill in if there was an injury crisis. 

This depth in defence has left Bailly as current fourth pick for the centre-back position, should the defender stay at the club and fight for his place in the first eleven, or is it better for all parties if the defender moves on? 

In Bailly’s first season at the club, the 2016/17 season, United registered the highest number of clean sheets in the league with 17, joint with Tottenham Hotspur. When fit, Bailly was a mainstay in the defence that achieved this, usually partnered with Daley Blind or Chris Smalling, Bailly’s pace was a factor that made him stand out from other defenders at the club. 

Across all competitions for United that season, Bailly totted up 3,289 minutes, missing a handful of games with a knee injury. Since his first season at the club, Eric Bailly has not since registered over 2,000 minutes in all competitions.

Many fans believed Bailly would kick on in his next season, but an ankle injury kept him out from mid-November until February, missing crucial games in the league and Europe in the process, this would signal the beginning of the end for Eric Bailly as a nailed on starter for United. The defender was now labelled injury prone after sustaining two significant injuries in consecutive seasons since joining the club, it is likely that this injury record led to the signing of Victor Lindelof in the summer of 2017, and later, the £80 million signing of Harry Maguire in the summer of 2019. 

Both players jumped above Bailly in the pecking order at United, with both players having extremely solid injury records to boot, with Maguire in particular playing more minutes than any other player worldwide in the 2019/20 season, as reported by Manchester United

With his injury record, Bailly had very little chance of taking the spot of either man, as is illustrated by the fact that in the 2019/20 season, the first season of the Maguire and Lindelof partnership, Bailly only played 780 minutes for United across all competitions. This was a clear indication that Bailly was no longer favoured over other centre-backs in the club. 

However, this summer Bailly looked to turn a corner as he was fit and available for his country during the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. He appeared in all four of Ivory Coast’s games, playing the full game in all, showing a sustained level of fitness fans haven’t seen from the Ivorian for many seasons.

Bailly’s hopes to break into the first team may have been dashed when United announced the signing of four-time Champions League winner and World Cup winner Varane this summer, a signing that is certainly not one for the bench. With three very solid defenders ahead of him, all with decent injury records, is it time up for Bailly at United?

If Bailly is after guaranteed game time, it might be the end of the road for him, as in the league it is almost certain that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will go with a Maguire/Varane partnership, with Lindelof as a crucial rotating option for when United’s schedule is packed, this leaves very little room for Bailly. 

However, Solskjaer has a record of nurturing players and finding a place for them when it looks as though they are out of the door, with Nemanja Matic being a key example of this in recent seasons. There is no doubt that for squad depth, United will want to hang on to Bailly as it is crucial when playing in four competitions to have options. 

For Bailly, however, at the age of 27, there might be questions over his development stalling when not being guaranteed game time. He may well feel as though, when fit, he is still a top-class defender and want to prove this at another club. 

Whatever the case may be, Bailly is certainly a ‘what if?’ for many United fans who saw his best form in the 2016/17 season, but with time still on the defenders side and a contract until 2024, there is still an opportunity for Bailly, if he stays fit, to prove he has the ability to be a starting centre-back for United. 

It is important to note, that in the mind of the manager, Bailly is still a crucial player. In 2021 Solskjaer stated ‘Eric has improved his robustness since my time as manager and he will continue to play a significant part in the squad’, as reported by Manchester United.  With the belief and backing of the manager, anything can happen, and perhaps if Manchester United stick with the fan favourite, their belief will be rewarded. 

Written by Jennifer McCord

Squad Depth: The Future of Manchester United’s Centre-Back Options

Manchester United have always relied on having strong squad depth to compete at the highest level in all competitions, whether that be the famous 2008/09 squad that featured the likes of Wayne Rooney, Cristiano Ronaldo, Dimitar Berbatov, Carlos Tevez and Luis Nani, or squads from the past that featured legends such as Jaap Stam, Denis Irwin, Gary Pallister and Phil and Gary Neville. However, in the past seven years or so United have arguably had little quality squad depth, and this is something that is important in every position on the field if trophies are the target.

Defensively, United have lacked two top class centre-backs since the days of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic’s formidable partnership, but the signing of Raphael Varane alongside existing club captain Harry Maguire looks to have changed this.

Varane arrives at United boasting an impressive trophy haul from his time with Real Madrid, which includesfour Champions League trophies and three La Liga titles. Add this to his impressive international career, which includes a World Cup and being the youngest ever French captain, it’s clear Varane brings a winning mentality to United that is so desperately needed. United are without a league title since 2013 and haven’t lifted the coveted Champions League trophy since that fantastic night in Moscow in 2008, Varane could be the addition that finally ends the eight-year league drought.

Highly respected and revered at Los Blancos, Varane boasts an impressive defensive and disciplinary record. In his time with Real Madrid, the defender has only picked up 25 yellow cards, and impressively, two red cards. Bearing in mind that’s across 360 matches played for Madrid, his overall record is exemplary. This in itself is testament to the Frenchman’s maturity and level-headed approach to the game, something that is very evident from the interviews he’s given throughout his career, once stating to Real Madrid TV “I always want to play clean”. All of these factors combined paints a picture of a mature top-class player, a quiet leader, and more importantly- a winner.

It’s clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will look to quickly integrate a player of Varane’s quality into the starting XI, and naturally he will be paired with club captain Harry Maguire. The captain status and Maguire’s impressive run of form throughout last season practically makes him untouchable within the line-up. This new pairing of Maguire and Varane subsequently means that trusted starter Victor Lindelof will lose his place, and he may have a case for being frustrated.

Throughout his four-year tenure at United, Lindelof has never fully convinced the Old Trafford faithful of his ability to be a first-choice centre-back option. However, as of late Lindelöf looks to have had an upturn in form, perhaps personified by his excellent pin point ball to Bruno Fernandes in the opening game against Leeds, which led to Fernandes’s hat-trick.

Nicknamed the ‘The Iceman’, Lindelof has been mostly reliable amongst United’s back four, which is in dire contrast to fellow defender Eric Bailly. If Lindelöf is ‘the iceman’, Bailly is a firecracker- erratic, rash but possessing an undeniable level of quality. Bailly is a tenacious defender, stronger and much quicker than Lindelöf, at the surface level he seems to be the perfect partner for Maguire.

However, dig a little deeper and you see the awful injury record that Bailly has, missing several stretches of games at a time. A lack of consistency means Bailly cannot be considered as a starter, albeit seemingly possessing a high level of talent. A mix of Lindelöf’s reliability and coolness with Bailly’s speed and strength is what United need, and it seems Varane may be just that.

While Varane is nailed on to be a starter, improving United’s starting back four, his potential impact on Lindelof and Bailly could be one of the greatest effects. Solskjaer will hope the arrival of Varane may spur on the other defenders within the United contingent to up their game, which would benefit the quality in squad depth that the team possesses. United will be hoping that they may be able to replicate ‘the Alex Telles’ effect, a signing which almost certainly contributed to Luke Shaw’s incredible campaign last season. Genuine quality breeds even more quality, as the bar is raised so is the level required to stay in contention, and the presence of having a World Cup winner will hopefully bolster the performances of Lindelof and Bailly when selected.

This is vital if United are looking to win on all fronts, squad rotation will be key to avoiding injuries and keeping players fresh. In the past when United have shuffled around defensively, whether that be in cup games or as a matter of necessity, the backline has always seemed somewhat frail or unsure of itself. Solskjaer will hope that this will no longer be the case, with both Lindelof and Bailly having the extra motivation of needing to prove their quality if they want to have a chance of getting back into the starting line-up. 

Conversely, one potential issue that could arise is if either Lindelof or Bailly become disgruntled with being delegated to the bench. While it’s unlikely Lindelöf will grow frustrated, given all indications seem to point to a happy player, Bailly may look to leave the club if he is unable to get many opportunities this season. Bailly penned a new deal back in April this year, keeping him at the club until June 2024, however the international may not be all that happy if he’s denied game time. Signing the contract Bailly made it clear he had intentions of an injury free stint, claiming that he “loved the club”.

The 27-year-old also said he viewed the new contract as “a fresh challenge”, perhaps alluding to his troublesome injury history and how he is trying to move on from that. While Bailly has clear affections for the club, he may just find the signing of Varane less than four months after his contract renewal as a bit of a kick in the teeth. At 27, Bailly needs to be playing regular football if he is to stay at the top of his game, unfortunately United may not be the best place for that.

Away from more experienced players, United still have both Axel Tuanzebe and Teden Mengi within their ranks to consider. Both English centre-backs are still relatively young, Tuanzebe being 23 and Mengi 19, and the pair are touted as having a very high ceiling of talent. While Tuanzebe will be unavailable for selection this year, having just secured a third loan move to Aston Villa, it’s clear that United see a future at the club for Tuanzebe having also just signed a contract extension. While not starting in many games last season, Tuanzebe really impressed in the away win against Paris Saint-Germain, managing to deal with Kylian Mbappe’s blistering pace effectively.

In contrast, Mengi has spent most of his career so far impressing for the under 23’s, although did move to Derby County on loan in the second half of last season. The Manchester born academy graduate had put in a string of good performances before unfortunately having his loan move cut short due to a hamstring injury. Mengi’s future for this season is still undecided as of the time of writing this article, however it’s highly likely that the impressive youngster will go back out on loan to the Championship for this season.

A loan move playing regular Championship football will surely prove more beneficial than simply playing in the under 23’s for Mengi, likely exposing him to adversity and the realities of playing week in week out in front of a large crowd. United will hope both players will gain more valuable experience and playing time this season, so when the pair do return to United, they will provide fresh competition.Overall, the future looks bright for United defensively, and for the centre-back position, in particular.

The squad has gained a born winner with valuable experience in this window, and the hope is this will ignite a competitive spirit amongst the defensive ranks. The addition of more valuable loan experience for the likes of Tuanzebe also bodes well for the future, and with the quality of the current overall United team, United could finally be setup with a high quality, experienced backline for years to come.

Written by Sam Wilson

Eric Bailly offered to Turkish club Fenerbahce this summer with player seemingly unwanted

Manchester United central defender Eric Bailly has reportedly been offered to a number of clubs so far this summer with the latest being Turkish side Fenerbahce, who have had dealing with United in the past five years with Robin van Persie and Nani both signing for the club when they left the Old Trafford club. Just last week, Bailly was offered to AC Milan with the Italian club rejecting the opportunity to sign the Ivorian defender this summer.

The Sun has reported that United have now offered the 26-year-olf to Fenerbahce which makes it look like, despite starting against LASK and FC Copenhagen in the UEFA Europa League, his future at the club is going to be cut short. Whilst that does not seem fair, it has to be considered that the player’s injury record does not look all that great but Phil Jones should be out of the door before him. That said, Bailly’s contract will expire in the summer of 2022 with Jones’ contract expiring a year later.

This season, Bailly has made just 11 first team appearances, making one more in the Premier League 2 playing as one of the three overage outfield players in accordance with the rules at that level, playing jus 780 minutes of football in total this season. United have at least one more match to play this season, against Sevilla in the semi-final of the UEFA Europa League, which could lead to a further and final match of the season if the club reaches the final, which could be against either Inter Milan or Shakhtar Donetsk.

Since signing for United from Villarreal for £30 million during the summer of 2016, under the management of Jose Mourinho, Bailly has suffered four long-term injuries at the club; his first a knee injury seeing him miss eight matches during his debut season at the club. His second injury, a bruise, saw him miss five matches during the 2017/18 season, then suffering an ankle injury that same season, missing 21 matches. The player required knee surgery last summer, missing 28 matches for United, recovering over the Christmas period.

That injury record could stop United trusting the player moving forward. If Jones’ nine years at the club has shown anything, a player that suffers injury after injury is going to be a liability. Jones, who should be forced out of the club before Bailly, is out of action currently after playing just eight times this season. The former England defender has suffered 19 separate injuries in his time at United which has led to him missing 121 matches for the club – this is not ideal at all.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will be itching to get his summer rebuild sorted with the aim of getting his squad ready for the new season, which is more than 30 days away – although those English teams still participating in European competition; United and Manchester City, will be granted a later start to the new Premier League season, giving their players a sufficient break before heading into another long season – hopefully not as long as this one, which still has another week and a few days to play.

Written by John Walker

Eric Bailly offered to AC Milan with Italian side not interested – reports

Manchester United central defender Eric Bailly has reportedly been offered to Italian side AC Milan this summer, says The Sun. The Ivorian has seemingly fallen down the pecking order at United and has seen Victor Lindelof predominantly partner Harry Maguire in the centre of the clubs defence. If this is true, it cold well be that Bailly is surplus to requirements at Old Trafford this summer, if United can find a buyer.

It would seem that AC Milan are not the team that would be interested in the Ivorian who signed for United in June 2016 from La Liga side Villarreal for £30 million, signing a four year contract at the time. Back in January, Bailly signed a contract extension which will expire in the summer of 2022, which gives United the opportunity to sell the player this summer, earning funds to continue Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s rebuild.

Italian news source Gazzetta dello Sport is where the report has come from, suggesting that the 26-year-old has been offered to the Serie A club, and seemingly rejected, which is not all that good for United or the player. It could be a similar response from many clubs as they will have seen the fact that Bailly does not have the best injury record at United. In his four years at United, he has missed 62 matches due to injury.

During the 2019/20 season, Bailly have made just 10 appearances for United at first team level, playing once at U23 level as one of the three overage outfield players allowed in conjunction with the Premier League 2 rules and regulations. He has not scored any goals or assists during the course of the season. In four years at the club, Bailly has made 84 appearances, scoring one goal and has played 6,361 minutes of football.

It would seem that with the futures of Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo and Chris Smalling up in the air with Jones hardly featuring for United, Rojo loaned in January and Smalling returning from loan at AS Roma this week, adding Bailly to that list could severely change Solskjaer’s defensive line with suggestions of a new central defender coming to the club this summer, unless Smalling will end up being retained.

That said, the likes of Teden Mengi and Ethan Laird could give rotation options, however, despite being able to play centrally, Laird seems to be a better fullback option. Axel Tuanzebe will play a part somewhere but his own injury record is alarming and could end up costing him his career, but that will be further down the line. This report makes me wonder is Bailly could leave this summer, which could be a big shake up at the club.

Written by John Walker

Could the return of Eric Bailly from injury be the answer to Manchester United's defensive problems?

After the £130 million acquisitions of both Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, most Manchester United fans believed that the defensive aspect of the team was set to vastly improve, yet the reds currently have the same number of clean sheets in the Premier League as they did after the same amount of games in 2018/2019, three, ranking third bottom.

Maguire was seen as the imposing leader to marshal Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s back four in the model of Virgil van Dijk, yet it was actually his performances in a back three for England in the 2018 World Cup that impressed United so much, leading to him becoming a key transfer target for Jose Mourinho later that summer.

The formation of a back three is something Solskjaer has done previously but only for specialised games against the likes of Sheffield United and Liverpool, although he did suggest in October that he could stick with it and acknowledged Maguire’s role for England.

“Harry and Jonah (Jones) were involved in a back three in a semi-final. Injuries have made us go into this position but it’s working quite well.”

The Red Devils have enough centre backs in the squad to deploy this system yet many have been struck down with injury, mainly Eric Bailly, whose knee ligament damage sustained in pre-season meant the purchase of Maguire was accelerated. Now the Ivorian is back in training, it should be in Solskjaer’s mind to now use him this time in a permanent change of shape to complement his main centre back pairing of Maguire and Victor Lindelöf.

In his first season at the club, Bailly’s pace and recovery speed made him a fan favourite, no more so when he faced up against Leicester City’s Jamie Vardy. United kept the joint highest number of clean sheets in 2016/2017 with Bailly being United’s highest rated central defender in his debut campaign, making both 2.4 tackles and interceptions per game

Since then he has suffered both short and long-term injuries, but has had some key performances, most recently against Chelsea in April 2019, where Bailly won all of his aerial duels and tackles whilst making six key interceptions, before going off with an unfortunate knee injury.

So far this season in Bailly’s absence we have seen Maguire often having to be pulled out wide into uncomfortable positions to cover for the lack of tracking back from Luke Shaw, most recently in the first half of the 2-0 defeat against Arsenal where Alexandre Lacazette turned him inside out before getting a shot away on goal. 

In the 2018 World Cup, Maguire was deployed in a back three with Manchester City’s Kyle Walker and John Stones alongside him. Walker was positioned there by Gareth Southgate to allow Maguire and Stones to step into midfield and play the ball out from the back without them feeling exposed as Walker had the pace to cover, a role Bailly could easily perform in United’s side.

When looking at Lindelöf, he is often a player who tends to get too tight to opposition strikers, giving away needless free-kicks which then teams subsequently target him on. United have conceded eight goals from set pieces this season, compared to Manchester City’s four, Liverpool’s three and Leicester’s two. He was exposed on a number of occasions earlier in the season against Southampton and Crystal Palace, leading to Mourinho to state of the Swede on Sky Sports:

“Lindelöf is very, very good in some aspects of the game, but he can be bullied in the one by one in the box, he’s not especially good in the air.”

If Bailly was played in a back three, his spring and fearlessness may mean opposition teams might not target Lindelöf so much, leading to him being able to focus on having the ball at his feet and playing it into the midfield and the strikers to start attacks. A back three would also allow other players in the defence to advance up the pitch, such as Wan-Bissaka and Brandon Williams, who would attack more in wing back roles and not have to get back and perform as many recovery tackles.

However, the question remains, can Bailly can stay injury free? Having missed over 300 days in his three-and-a-half seasons at the club, will he firstly be able to cement a place in the team and then secondly, forge a sustainable understanding with Maguire and Lindelöf? His injury record preceeds him but there is no doubting his ability to potentially perform such a role. The stats are now that desperate that something needs to change for Solskjaer.

Written by Alex Metcalfe

Eric Bailly could recover from knee injury earlier than expected – reports

Manchester United defender Eric Bailly has reportedly given the club a boost after it has been reported that he was eyeing an early return to action after knee surgery, which was due to keep him out of action until the Christmas period, whether that was a return to training or a date which would have rendered him ready to play again.

The reports come from ESPN FC, who obviously have a source of information that they trust. It is suggested that the Ivorian will target a November return, after the international break, meaning that Bailly could be back to face Sheffield United away, FC Astana away, or even Aston Villa at Old Trafford.

The 25-year-old suffered an injury to his left knee back in April, which ruled him out for the rest of the season, then playing a part in pre-season, aiming to get himself fit for the new season, Bailly injured his right knee against Tottenham Hotspur in China, meaning he was going to be out for at least the first half of the season.

United has suffered a fair share of injuries this season so far with Luke Shaw out for about a month after suffering a thigh injury in the defeat to Crystal Palace at Old Trafford on the 24 August. Added to that, Aaron Wan-Bissaka withdrew from the England squad this month with a back injury and Jesse Lingard withdrew because of illness.

United also has Diogo Dalot on the sidelines with an injury and he recently flew to China to try and solve that ahead of his return to action. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer also has Anthony Martial out of action with a thigh injury, Paul Pogba with an ankle injury and Tim Fosu-Mensah also recovering from a knee injury.

At this moment in time, Bailly is not a player who is missed in the centre of defence as the likes of Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire have been doing well of late, depending on which way you want to react over the conceded goal against Palace which saw the latter covering for the injured Shaw in the run up to the goal.

Other than Lindelof and Maguire, Solskjaer has Axel Tuanzebe, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo to utilise in defence. Although, once Bailly is fit and ready to play, it will probably bring the end of Rojo’s career at the club as he aimed to leave this summer, a move to Everton falling through. He is being linked to Aston Villa right now though.

Bailly will obviously give United and Solskjaer a boost with him injury return, if the reports are true but he should have a period whereby he plays for the U23s, if they can accommodate him, to ensure that he’s ready and able to fight for a starting position within the first team once again. If so, he can be used as rotation.

United may still be fighting in three tournaments at the time of his reported return from injury; the Premier League, Carabao Cup and UEFA Europa League, with the Emirates FA Cup coming up in January. Solskjaer will need to have as many players fit to overcome these matches, which more often than not will see the club playing twice a week.

Manchester United to discuss contract extension with Ivorian defender Eric Bailly

Manchester United are reportedly set to commence talks with central defender Eric Bailly in order to get him to commit to the club with the offer of a new contract. The Ivory Coast defender will be out of contract next summer, although there is the option to trigger the additional year on the contract he signed in the summer of 2016.

Bailly suffered a knee ligament injury at the end of last season, undergoing surgery which he is yet to recover from. He is expected to be on the sidelines until the Christmas period, which may mean he will not be able to play until January 2020 with him needing to reach a level of match fitness, which may happen with the U23s.

It is expected that the 25-year-old still has a future at the Old Trafford club despite the arrival of Victor Lindelof two years ago and the arrival of Harry Maguire this summer. There are even reports that there is a clause in Bailly’s contract which means the club can extend his commitment to the club for a further two years, whether that is true or not, I don’t know.

An apparent source from the Old Trafford club spoke to the media, where it was relayed that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was a fan of the player and that he is still wanted at the club. Personally, I see Lindelof and Maguire as the first-choice partnership right now with Axel Tuanzebe ahead of Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Marcos Rojo seems unwanted. The source said:

“The club want Eric to stay and are looking for talks about an extension.

“We don’t want to lose him on a free transfer next summer. It’s just down to both parties agreeing to everything.

“His injury record isn’t a major concern for us. We just think he has been unlucky with everyone over the last few years.

“Ole is a fan of the player and we’re going to convince him to stay, at least that is the plan at present.”

The report states that Bailly will be free to discuss moves with other European clubs from the 1 January 2020, which will only be true if his extra year, which was an agreement in his contract which was signed in 2016 is not activated. Obviously, just like David De Gea’s clause, it will be activated if talks extend into the Christmas period.

However, with nothing else for Bailly to do during his period of recovery, he will most likely have the time to talk about a possible renewal and when he has recovered and is fit to play again, he can work on winning a place in the team once more. Bailly, when fit, is a capable central defender who in his first season at the club, did well to establish himself.

copyright: JW