Eric Bailly was visible in Manchester United training last week and then invisible at Goodison Park. Ralf Rangnick did not list Eric Bailly in his injury bulletin on Friday yet there were two goalkeepers on the United bench against Everton.
Bailly signed a new contract last April and has not played since the win against Burnley in December, his seventh club appearance of the campaign. He has appeared more times for Côte d’Ivoire.
Whether or not Bailly returned from international duty with an injury or illness (that would be the seventh time in under six years at United), he cannot be at the club next season. It was bad enough United rewarded Bailly with a renewal, an unconvincing three-year deal for a 27-year-old who has played fewer games than Bruno Fernandes. Fernandes joined United three years and seven months later than Bailly did.
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Jesse Lingard might wish he had taken the rest of the season off, never mind the Middlesbrough FA Cup tie. Unfathomably underused by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he is now ending matches unused by Rangnick. Juan Mata, 34 this month, starter of four games in the last year and possibly worthier of a green card than Rishi Sunak, has had more playing time than Lingard of late.
The worst Everton team in 20 years overcame United through commitment in what was possibly the worst standard of a fixture in the Premier League all season as both teams dragged each other down to their level. It was apposite Everton won through a deflected goal from the Scouser Anthony Gordon, a talent who epitomizes the ethos Evertonians demand.
The United substitutes’ pre-match keep-ball drill might as well have been played on a sandpit. Many players have mentally checked out already and Paul Pogba has already submitted the script to excuse his nondescript United career: it is all the club’s fault.
When United were thrashed 4-0 at Goodison in 2019, Pogba swiftly disappeared down the Main Stand tunnel. On Saturday, the temporary entrance for the away team was still in use, so the United players had no choice but to pass their irate supporters at full-time.
Cristiano Ronaldo paused, collapsed to the turf and pulled down his sock to find his shin bloodied. The gash was visible as he gingerly trudged off, possibly seeking sympathy. He did not receive it from Mancunians or Merseysiders and his reaction from him to the Everton fan whose phone he smashed was deplorable.
Pogba’s body is in Manchester but his mind is elsewhere. He is not the only one. Edinson Cavani’s body is rarely in Manchester. Such players who are indifferent to United’s cause should not be selected again.
Hannibal Mejbri warmed up on the Goodison touchline and has to be under consideration to start against Norwich, let alone make the bench. United are carefully nurturing Alejandro Garnacho, mindful of managing the hype around a 17-year-old who has trained with Ronaldo and Lionel Messi within the last month.
Garnacho trained with the first-team last week and scored the winner for the Under-23s against Chelsea on Friday night. In a week where he signed a sponsorship deal with Nike and was treated to hospitality at the Chelsea-Real Madrid Champions League quarter-final, his 12th goal for him in for United’s junior teams this season was a reassuring statement of intent. An attacking exodus is certain and the run-in is ideal for United to bed in Garnacho.
Left-back Alvaro Fernandez, another recruit from Madrid in the pandemic summer of 2020, was unfortunate not to earn a bench role against Middlesbrough two months ago and has served his apprenticeship in the Under-23s. Alex Telles’s shelf-life at United is short and Luke Shaw went under the knife on Saturday.
James Garner triumphed again on Saturday with Nottingham Forest, threatening to pip Bournemouth to automatic promotion in what would be one of the stories of the English league season. If Garner’s place in the United squad for next season is not already assured then it should be.
The club planned on lowering the average age of their midfield three years ago and Garner may now be ready to become visible. Unlike Bailly.