Mikel Oyarzabal was left to rue his missed penalty as Manchester United strolled into the Europa League last 16 with a goalless draw against Real Sociedad.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side kept a clean sheet thanks to the concerted efforts of Dean Henderson, but while the goalkeeper caught the eye with a string of eye-catching saves, it was Eric Bailly who was arguably Solskjaer’s unsung hero on the night.
The centre-back, who arrived at Old Trafford from Villarreal for £30m in 2016, has found himself jostling for position with Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof for a spot in Solskjaer’s starting XI since the start of the season.
And on Thursday night, Bailly looked back to his formidable best, putting in a shift at the back, as he kept the likes of Alexander Isak and Oyarzabal in his back pocket for most of the game.
As per SofaScore, he made three clearances, which was the joint-highest of any player for United bar Lindelof, while his total of two interceptions was the most of any Red Devils defender, including Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Alex Telles.
It just goes to show that the experienced Ivory Coast international defender was the commanding presence at the heart of United’s backline which constantly frustrated the Sociedad attack, staying tight to Isak and denying the Swede any time or space on the ball, proving to be a thorn in their side for large periods of the game as he won every single one of his three individual battles.
For context, Isak lost three out of his four duels overall, and it was no surprise to see him substituted after 45 minutes.
Furthermore, Bailly also completed two successful dribbles from two attempts, producing a further four accurate long balls from five attempts, showing a willingness to bring the ball out from the back in an attempt to set his side on the front foot.
The 26-year-old, therefore, was a dominant presence aerially and stuck to his tasks well on the night, sending Solskjaer an important statement as a result.
AND in other news, Man Utd plotting Jarrad Branthwaite transfer with an eye on the future…