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Bailly injury leaves Man Utd and Mourinho without only transfer success

Some Manchester United players had spent the week prior to a 4-0 defeat against Chelsea mocking the footwear choices of Eric Bailly on social media. Ironic, considering he’s the only player who hasn’t put a foot wrong this season.

Only three players had played every minute of Manchester United’s Premier League campaign up to the point when Bailly suffered a knee ligament injury during the second half of the 4-0 loss at Chelsea.

David de Gea and Zlatan Ibrahimovic were two, and the third was Bailly himself. De Gea was responsible for the concession of costly goals against Stoke City and Chelsea on the day while Zlatan is on his longest barren streak in front of goal for a decade. It could be argued, then, that Bailly was the only player Jose Mourinho was able to trust wholeheartedly for the Premier League campaign so far.

The former Porto boss can’t seem to make up his mind about his players in midfield and on the wings and is about to be served another head-scratcher with his defensive chief out injured. United will miss him badly.

"He is injured and I am afraid he is badly injured," the Special One said at Stamford Bridge on Sunday. "In his knee, in the ligament area, he feels it is really bad."

When the alternative is Marcos Rojo - with Phil Jones apparently having vanished - then you know United is in trouble at the back. There is a perplexing lack of strength in depth in the center back positions with it having been a case of “Bailly plus one” for the season so far.

Chris Smalling and Daley Blind were largely appalling in the absence of the 22-year-old CAF African Football of the Year nominee on Sunday; the crisis of confidence afflicting other sectors of Mourinho’s team finally reaching the back line which shut out Liverpool last Monday.

United looked beleaguered and badly organized throughout against Chelsea, but it’s not a stretch to say that only Bailly of the defenders looks worthy of a place at this storied club. There is accurate distribution, short and long. There are crunching covering challenges and a desire to head balls in the box.

A sum of 30 million pounds was required to prise Bailly from Villarreal over the summer. After some initial reservations, the 2015 Africa Cup of Nations winner has grown seamlessly into his surroundings.

There is no doubting that at the moment Bailly is the only summer transfer success story for United given the travails of Zlatan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and the world’s most expensive footballer Paul Pogba. Only Bailly has played anywhere close to expectations, and he arrived with the smallest fanfare too.

A patched-up defensive line will be on view Wednesday night for the EFL Cup derby against City but none of Mourinho’s options instill much confidence back there. Sergio Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne are in bad need of a pick-me-up and could well have their eyes trained on the United defense as the opportunity to regain confidence.

The next month will also be a dry run for that period from the middle of January to February when Bailly will be at the AFCON with Cote d’Ivoire. Instead of poking fun at his sandals, by the time Bailly comes back, his teammates might well be kissing his feet.