Eric Bailly

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Bailly injury announcement overshadows Man Utd win

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Manchester United defeated Norwegian side Kristiansund in Oslo on Tuesday, but the winning performance came with a dose of bad news.

Eric Bailly, injured last week against Tottenham Hotspur, is set to miss 4-5 weeks after surgery.

[ USWNT: Ellis stepping down ]

Juan Mata won and converted a stoppage time penalty for United, who provided Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with a winning match in his home country.

Solskjaer split his starters and subs evenly in the victory.

But it’s difficult not to question United’s center back depth as Bailly suffers another spell on the sidelines. United has been heavily linked with a world record bid for Harry Maguire, but so far has almost the same CB corps as last season: Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe, and the ailing Bailly (Timothy Fosu-Mensah is back from his Fulham loan).

Bailly arrives home in wheelchair after new knee injury

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Eric Bailly has battled with injuries his entire Manchester United career, and that struggle looks to continue as the center-back appears to have suffered another serious knee problem.

After seeing just 10 minutes on the field as a halftime substitute in Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Tottenham in Shanghai, Bailly was stretchered off and was seen leaving the stadium on crutches. With Manchester United returning home after the match, Bailly was pictured in a wheelchair with a brace around his left knee.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hinted after the match that Bailly may yet again see the sidelines for a long spell. “We’ve just got to do some scans,” the Manchester United boss said after the match. “It doesn’t look great but let’s see how it goes.”

Bailly joined Manchester United in the summer of 2016, but in his three years at Old Trafford he has made just 74 appearances across all competitions, including 50 in league play. He made 25 Premier League appearances his first season with the Red Devils but missed all of November with a slight knee injury. The 25-year-old saw his top flight appearances drop to 13 in 2017/18 thanks to an ankle injury that left him sidelined for three months, and that number dropped to 12 last season with a knee injury late in the campaign that kept him out of the Africa Cup of Nations this summer.

Manchester United has a plethora of central defenders in the squad to replace Bailly, but Solsjkaer has gunned for improvements at the position nonetheless. Bailly’s injury only strengthen’s Leicester City’s negotiating position as they look to push the price for Harry Maguire higher and higher. English tabloids reported that Bailly’s place in the Manchester United squad was already tenuous before the injury, and this will only add to his frustrations.

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.