While captain Harry Maguire floundered and David de Gea forgot he was supposed to be in a purple patch of form, stand-in centre back Eric Bailly produced a commanding performance tonight as Manchester united grabbed a 2-2 draw in Italy.
The Champions league Group F game against Atalanta started with United in a 3-5-2 formation and Bailly on the right side of that back three with Raphael Varane in the middle and Maguire on the left.
However, Varane limped off in the first half and manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer reverted to a back four.
And whilst Bailly was the unpredictable maverick that United fans have come to know and love, he produced brilliance along with eccentricity.
The Ivorian achieved 85% pass accuracy, had 68 total touches, won 7 out of 11 duels and made four interceptions.
He also won two out of three tackles, made two blocks and one clearance.
Eric Bailly’s game by numbers vs. Atalanta:
85% pass accuracy
68 total touches
11 total duels contested
7 total duels won
3 attempted tackles
2 successful tackles
Kept his team in the game time after time. 🔥 pic.twitter.com/UhyYs7V0wK
— Statman Dave (@StatmanDave) November 2, 2021
Bailly has never been manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s go-to defender but with Varane and Lindelof injury-prone this season and Maguire struggling for form, the manager will look long and hard at his performance tonight.
Bailly made a stupendous block in the first half to avert what was probably a certain goal.
His speed and sheer skill probably surpass those of all his fellow centre-backs at the club.
If he can stay fit, which has been his Achilles heel in the past, the 27-year-old could provide the catalyst to bring United’s wayward defence together to work toward a trophy-winning season.
However, whether Solskjaer will give him that chance remains to be seen.