With Bailly going to the African Cup of Nations in January to represent the Ivory Coast, Mourinho has to find somebody to step in to replace him and it looks like Smalling is who he is pinning his hopes on.
Speaking about the situation Mourinho said: “Let’s hope Smalling can recover in time to replace him in the squad because, with so many matches, we need players. At the moment, we have Phil Jones, Bailly and Marcos Rojo [as centre-backs]. We play Tottenham, West Brom and Reading, West Ham away [among others] – in that period we have a lot of matches and it is important to have players.”
If we cast our minds back to last year, Smalling was by some margin the best defender at Man United and although he’s regressed somewhat under Mourinho, if he can recapture that sort of form then he’d be an outstanding replacement for Bailly. In my mind, Smalling and Bailly should be our first choice partnership when fit.
United’s defence has certainly been lacking in presence without Bailly and I doubt Smalling will be able to replace him fully even if he is back in January 100%. That being said, it would certainly be a welcome boost of options for Mourinho and one which he is clearly hoping comes to fruition.
Much has been said over whether Mourinho actually likes Smalling after his public criticism aimed towards him but with United’s defence in need of being improved, it looks like he’ll be turning to Smalling in January.