Eric Bailly was supposed to flourish at Manchester United this season. The fact that the club didn't buy a new centre-back over the summer even presented the Ivorian with a more tangible opportunity after a strong debut campaign was followed by a disrupted one in 2017/18.

Bailly has everything to succeed in the rough and ready world of Premier League football. He is quick, aggressive, strong and appears to actually enjoy defending in a way that some fellow centre-backs like Chelsea's David Luiz, for example, simply don't.


His performance in the opening game of the new season against Leicester, while not perfect, was good and offered plenty of promise, not least because it seemed that a long-term pairing with Victor Lindelof might finally be on the cards, 12 months after the Swede's £30m arrival.

But fast forward nine days from the Leicester game to United's trip to Brighton and Bailly was the worst of a bad bunch as the Seagulls won 3-2 in a result that flattered the visitors in the end.

He lacked sharp enough awareness when Brighton broke the deadlock through Glenn Murrary, was guilty of an horrific shanked clearance to concede a needless corner that led to the second goal and inexplicably dived in to give away the penalty that ultimately decided the game.


Only a last ditch stretch under pressure after miscontrol on the edge of his own penalty area in the second half prevented further embarrassment for the former Villarreal defender.

As United now prepare to host Tottenham at Old Trafford on Monday in what should be a much tougher test still, manager Jose Mourinho has a crucial decision to make about Bailly. Will he persist with the player or will he drop him in favour of someone else?

Mourinho is famously a manager who works on trust. He likes players he knows he can trust - part of the reason he has traditionally favoured older players in their late twenties - and doesn't like those he thinks he cannot. The Portuguese said towards the end of last season that he wasn't picking Bailly to give others a chance to stake their claim for a World Cup place, but trust issues after a patchy season must surely have been an unspoken factor in that decision as well.


With no Lindelof, Phil Jones, Marcos Rojo or any new faces during pre-season, Mourinho had little choice but to turn to Bailly again. As already alluded to, it seemed like a decision that had at least somewhat paid off after the Leicester game, only for that trust to potentially lie shattered.

Chris Smalling certainly improved towards the end of last season after it had been rumoured that he was in danger of being moved on. Making that change should improve United's defensive strength against Spurs, but the longer-term damage it could do cannot just be ignored.

Callously dropping Bailly could affect the player in vastly different ways. He will either use it as an incentive to prove himself to the manager and battle his way back into the team, a mentality Mourinho has always liked to have in his squads and the reason he opts for public criticism instead of an 'arm around the shoulder' man management technique.


The other possible effect is that it will destroy the already fragile confidence of a player who clearly looked rattled and nervous after he made his first of many mistakes against Brighton.

If Mourinho drops Bailly now, what will it mean for his performances further down the line and ultimately his future at United? Yet, equally, can he actually risk leaving him in when United desperately need to win against a direct rival?