The Red Devils started an important week on Saturday.
Before hosting Sevilla at Old Trafford in their Champions League last 16 return leg, Jose Mourinho’s side welcomed high-flying Reds in a fight to secure second place. The fact that there were only two points separating the two sides made the contest even more intriguing. And thanks to a brace from Marcus Rashford, Man United came out victorious to extend their lead to five points ahead of Liverpool.
But it was Eric Bailly who impressed the most and his return is a welcome sight for a Man United side that has been struggling to put on a solid defensive display all season.
In his first start after returning from his latest injury the Ivorian center back played an instrumental role in keeping out the famed trio of Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, and Mo Salah. His presence made the inconsistent Chris Smalling look decent.
Ashley Young also had one of his best games in some time. Even though Bailly was the culprit for Liverpool’s consolation after a somewhat unconventional attempt of a clearance, his performance aside from that one incident was top notch.
His manager was quick to praise him after the game: ‘… fantastic performance and the spirit when other players probably could do it the easiest way and say: ‘we are winning 2-0, I’ve done my job, goodbye’. ‘Eric Bailly was exactly the opposite, he was on the pitch, after the own goal he showed the mentality we want – a fantastic example for everybody.’
The first half was a vintage ‘a Jose Mourinho side’ performance.
Two shots on target led to two goals, which were instigated as a result of a long ball which targeted Liverpool’s weak link in the defense. Together with that, the home side managed to keep out Liverpool’s attack and prevented them from getting any sort of space in the final third. Although there were some panicky moments in the second half the general game plan worked perfectly.
Man United’s unsure defense was exposed on several occasions this season, the recent losses against Tottenham and Newcastle United being prime examples. Even when the side managed to win or get draws the defense was still exposed.
And if it weren’t for the amazing David De Gea the team would’ve been in a very precarious position. But on Saturday the Spaniard didn’t have to make any of his unbelievable saves. That is because the defense did its job.
If Man United are to go far in the Champions League and end the season on a high they need a replica of that first half against Liverpool.
Mourinho, who is known for putting together an organized defense to implement his game- plan, will be breathing a sigh of relief after the timely return of Bailly. The defender exactly the sort of leader United has been crying out for this season and could be the difference maker at the business end of the season.
Written by Brook Genene
Follow Brook on Twitter @brookge
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