Eric Bailly

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Man United announces Bailly out for season, AFCON with knee injury

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Manchester United confirmed Monday that defender Eric Bailly will miss the final two games of the season and the Africa Cup of Nations this summer with a knee injury he suffered during Sunday’s match against Chelsea.

The injury, however, could have been much worse.

Bailly looked in serious pain as he clutched his knee after an awkward and crunching collision with Chelsea midfielder Mateo Kovacic. After lengthy treatment which brought the stretcher out, Bailly hobbled off with the assistance of two trainers, refusing the stretcher and instead hopping on one foot all the way down the tunnel.

The scenes Sunday was cause for serious concern, but those were somewhat relieved with Manchester United’s announcement that Bailly suffered MCL damage, not the ACL that was feared. Bailly will miss the final two games of the season but should – according to typical MCL recovery time of around six weeks – be ready for preseason this summer.

“He will need a scan, but I don’t think it is the worst knee injury you can have,” Manchester United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said after the Chelsea match before the extent of the injury was fully confirmed. “He will be out for the rest of the season. But he is a warrior, he played well today, it was just unfortunate that he had to come off.”

Bailly will be a big miss not only for Manchester United as it fights for a Champions League place with remaining matches against Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City, but also for the Ivory Coast at this summer’s Africa Cup of Nations. The country has been drawn into a group with Morocco, South Africa, and Namibia and will be without the 32-cap defender for the whole tournament. Tottenham defender Serge Aurier is also injured, picking up a hamstring injury when last on duty for the Ivory Coast, but should return in time for this summer’s tournament.

One area where Mourinho was right: Man Utd badly needs center backs

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Big Manchester United wins and losses, especially post-Alex Ferguson, have a tendency to get overstated at both ends of the spectrum, but there’s plenty to take away from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer‘s recent struggles at the helm of the Red Devils.

[ MORE: Recap | Solskjaer reacts ]

For one thing: Jose Mourinho wasn’t right about much this Manchester United season, but he knew he needed better men in the back.

Everton’s beautiful opener in the first half of Sunday’s 4-0 pummeling of the Red Devils may tempt some to wash over the defending, but heading below the surface shows more problems.

The opener saw Richarlison score a terrific overhead kick after Dominic Calvert-Lewin flick a Lucas Digne throw-in to the back post. Beautiful, for sure, but Smalling never gets up to thwart Calvert-Lewin’s powerful jump.

Now that’s certainly just one example, but United’s slide is a feature of a few things.

Nineteen goals conceded in 17 PL matches is a clear upgrade from the 29 in 17 under Mourinho, and let’s not pretend United hasn’t been better with Solskjaer at the proverbial wheel.

Throw in a very average season from David De Gea — which in his case is far below standards — and it’s not a surprise that United is flailing away from the Top Four. The Alexis Sanchez move has been poor, Romelu Lukaku‘s form has dipped save back-to-back braces against a pair of unremarkable defenses, and Paul Pogba remains mercurial. He’s a monster of the midfield at his best, and a drifting object in the wind at his worst.

There’s a comparison to made with where Liverpool was under Brendan Rodgers somewhere, a legendary club not quite sure of how to fit its standard to its standing. Marcus Rashford needs room to grow, not constant comparison to Romelu Lukaku. There are a lot of extra pieces in the squad, the guys you like as a luxury for a great team but are either too old or too green to be reliable.

Of center backs to play in 10 or more Premier League matches this season, Phil Jones ranks 16th, Chris Smalling is 38th, and Victor Lindelof is 44th. Only 57 are ranked. Advanced stats aren’t foolproof, but they help (Jones and little-used Eric Bailly, for what it’s worth, were well-rated last season).

The club needs a big rebuild, to be sure. De Gea is a suitable goalkeeper for a team with top end ambitions, and we know that Lukaku and Pogba at their best can dominate (whether either is capable of doing it consistently under anyone is a debate).

But really, perhaps De Gea’s amazing 2017-18 and Mourinho’s defense-first system papered over something that’s been evident for some time. There’s neither a Aymeric Laporte or Toby Alderweireld at United, let alone a Virgil Van Dijk.

Mourinho: Manchester United ‘scored four goals, drew 2-2’

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Jose Mourinho had the one-liner after Manchester United gifted a pair of goals to Arsenal, twice battling back to level the score in a 2-2 draw at Old Trafford on Wednesday.

“We scored four goals, and we drew 2-2,” he said.

[ RECAP: Man Utd 2-2 Arsenal ]

David De Gea mishandled a bouncing shot for Arsenal’s first goal and Marcos Rojo gave the ball away before conceding an own goal with a last ditch effort, but Anthony Martial and Jesse Lingard scored equalizers for Mourinho’s men.

“As always we made mistakes, and we paid for those mistakes,” Mourinho said. “Many many times we make mistakes behind and we pay for that. Today was more of the same but we had great spirit. We were a team with people really ready to have a go and fight hard.”

Mourinho left Paul Pogba on the bench to start the game, and handed starts to several unusual players including Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, and Rojo.

He praised their efforts, in what may’ve been a small dig at Pogba (but perhaps we’re reading a bit into it).

“The feeling of our players going to the limit, being really tired, people that didn’t play all season some of them. Diogo it’s the first start, Rojo the first minute, Bailly after so, so long, Chris Smalling playing in conditions only he, myself, and the medical department know. Everybody giving everything. They were dangerous only when we lost the ball, and we lost the ball badly in dangerous areas.”

United is eight points back of the Top Four, and hosts Fulham on Saturday.

Transfer rumor roundup: Koulibaly to Man Utd, Pulisic to Chelsea

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International breaks seem to ratchet up transfer talk, as players are free from their clubs but not from reporters’ microphones.

Whether on or off the record, stories seem to break with more regularity during these periods. This week is no exception.

[ MORE: Netherlands wins, Germany relegated ]

The Daily Record says Manchester United is being urged to make a big defensive buy from Napoli, with Jose Mourinho wanting to count Kalidou Koulibaly amongst his ranks.

Koulibaly has played every Serie A minute for Napoli this season, and chipped in with five goals in playing more than 3000 minutes last season. He has 29 caps for Senegal, and it’s difficult to believe the Neapolitan side would sell him for less than a defender transfer record.

And while Mourinho has been reported to admire the potential of Eric Bailly, he’s not using him right now and the Ivorian may want out sooner rather than later. Purchased from Villarreal for approximately $38 million, Spurs and Arsenal are both being linked with an equal money move for Bailly.

Mourinho would probably trade Bailly for Alderweireld, but Ed Woodward is unlikely to sanction the age sacrifice.

Newcastle is also being tipped with a move for a Serie A player, though this player has not been in the league too long.

Twenty-three year-old Genoa attacker Krzysztof Piątek is the man Newcastle hopes can revive its attack. He cost less than $5 million in the summer, and The Chronicle says Genoa would expect a profit of around $15m.

Piatek and Koulibaly (Photo by Paolo Rattini/Getty Images)

And how about Christian Pulisic? The Daily Mail says that Chelsea is going to push to get the move through the door in January, with the threat of a transfer ban looming over Stamford Bridge.

The report says the price may be dropping as Pulisic is now within a season-and-a-half of his contract’s expiry, and Borussia Dortmund having Jadon Sancho to fill Pulisic’s spot if needed.

Finally, longtime Swans defender Angel Rangel could be heading to MLS, according to Football.London, with his current contract at QPR only running through January. DC United and NYCFC are the teams reportedly dueling for his signature alongside Championship clubs Norwich City, Nottingham Forest, and his current club.

Mourinho: Again, Manchester United failed to kill the game

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He’s quotable. Give him that.

Jose Mourinho is under a hail of criticism after 10-man Manchester United was ousted from the League Cup at the hands of Frank Lampard‘s Derby County.

[ MORE: Recap, League Cup wrap ]

United took a third-minute lead but fell behind 2-1 before Marouane Fellaini‘s stoppage time header pushed the match to penalty kicks, where Phil Jones missed the 16th kick of the contest.

“We practice penalties and we see it in training,” Mourinho said. “And when we get past the sixth penalty I know we’re in trouble with Bailly and Jones.”

[ MORE: “Shellshocked” Lampard reacts ]

At best, there’s a bit of humor somewhere in there. At worst, Mourinho tossed a couple of center backs under the proverbial bus (one he didn’t park on Tuesday).

As for the 90 minutes before kicks, Mourinho said the loss was similar to Saturday’s draw against Wolves. He told his players to get going in the second half or else.

Turned out, it was else.

Mourinho refused to elaborate on his stripping of Paul Pogba‘s vice captaincy. Pogba was not in the lineup on Tuesday after criticizing United’s tactics following a 1-1 draw with Wolves at the weekend.

From The Manchester Evening News:

“The only truth is that I made the decision of Paul not to be the second captain anymore,” Mourinho told Sky Sports. “But no fall-out. No problems at all. The same person that decides Paul is not second captain anymore was exactly the same person that decides that Paul was the second captain, myself. I am the manager, I can make these decisions, no fall-out at all, no problems at all, just one decision that I don’t have to explain.”

The storms of controversy that follow Mourinho seem overwhelming at times, and whether this loss sticks with him and/or moves the meter in regards to his job security. Regardless, it’s difficult to believe any major changes would come in the middle of a very difficult Champions League group stage.

United visits West Ham on Saturday before Valencia visits in the Champions League next week.