A football team is a lot like a house. A house will deteriorate and fall down if it is built on shoddy foundations.
However with a football team, the foundations are the defence. Between 2008 and 2013 Manchester United had a defence that was unshakeable, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic were the epitome of yin and yang and went onto form one of the best partnerships in Europe. Patrice Evra and an evergreen Gary Neville, marshalled the flanks superbly. Fast forward eight years and Mourinho could be on the verge of constructing a back four United can rely on once again.
Manchester United have had a turbulent time at the back over the past few years. Under David Moyes they were shaky and looked nervous at the best of times. A year later Louis Van Gaal’s regimental ‘philosophy’ resulted in more clean sheets but still failed to instil the consistency needed to provide a solid platform from which the team could grow.
The return of Luke Shaw feels like a new signing, while Antonia Valencia is performing well on the opposite flank. Under Van Gaal the fullbacks were shackled to their defensive duties and were rarely given license to contribute to the offensive side of play. As we have seen in the first handful of games, Mourinho has encouraged Valencia and Shaw to maraud forward and attack, as he has often asked his fullbacks to do.
Throughout his managerial career José Mourinho’s teams have been renowned for their unwavering consistency defensively, apart from his last ill-fated season at Chelsea of course. This is mostly due to his uncanny ability to select the right personnel to orchestrate his teams defensively on the pitch. Players such as Carvalho, Samuel, Lucio, Materazzi, Pepe, and Terry have all been loyal Lieutenants on the pitch for José and he will undoubtably try and build a defence packed with similar personalities at Old Trafford.
One player Mourinho will be hoping he can mould into a similar player to the aforementioned is Eric Bailly. When his £30m transfer was confirmed, many football fans, including myself, were scratching their heads as to what United had bought. Aside from knowing he was highly rated at Villarreal, the rest of Bailly’s profile was a grey area. Yet after only four matches and three man of the match awards, he has become an instant success at the heart of United’s defence. I can only assume Mourinho paid close attention to the young centre back after their paths crossed in Spain.
The Ivorian has had a meteoric rise that surprisingly only began five years ago. Bailly joined Espanyol in 2011 and while his work permit issues were dealt with, spent his early days with the youth and reserve teams. It wasn’t until 2014 that he made his senior debut in a 2-0 win over Real Sociedad, from there he went onto become a mainstay for the Periquitos. So impressive were his performances that in January 2015 Villarreal opened their cheque book and handed over €5.7m. Bailly slotted straight into the back four as a replacement for Gabriel Paulista who had moved to Arsenal in the same window.
Despite moving clubs Bailly’s performances did not waiver, even when confronted with La Liga’s heavyweights. Last season Villarreal were watertight, keeping 17 clean sheets. Most notably they were the only team to prevent Atletico scoring home and away. They also shut the door on the Galacticos in a 1-0 win at El Madrigal, with Bailly responsible for marshalling Ronaldo. Now at United, Bailly has struck up a surprisingly successful partnership with Daley Blind.
Despite Blind’s upturn in form this season, I do feel Mourinho will eventually make a move for one of his old favourites from Real, Raphael Varane. Mourinho was the man to bring Varane to the Bernabéu and has always had a soft spot for the young frenchman. If he can convince Varane to make the move to Old Trafford, a Partnership with Bailly would be a mouthwatering prospect.
Despite the Bailly-Blind partnership starting promisingly, we are seeing Bailly rescue Blind all to often. Bailly has been required to perform covering tackles for the dutchman as well as compensate aerially, with Blind not exactly the most intimidating in the air. In contrast, if played alongside Varane, Bailly would not be required to babysit.
Bailly’s defensive style has an uncanny resemblance to Ferdinand. His calm nature and excellent reading of the game are synonymous with the ex England international. The same comparison was made of Chris Smalling. Many hoped he and Phil Jones would replicate the Ferdinand-Vidic stranglehold on United’s central defensive positions. Unfortunately for one reason or another it never came to fruition. With ever week that passes, it seems more and more likely Mourinho will finally be the one to rebuild this sporting monument, and restore it to former glory.