Lindelof & Bailly: The concerning numbers behind United’s potential defensive partnership

The centre-backs may have been team-mates for years, but it’s remarkable how little time they’ve spent together on the pitch.

Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly. Credit: Getty.

Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly look likely to be Manchester United’s centre-back pairing for Saturday’s Premier League game against Leicester City.

That’s because first-choice defenders Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane are expected to miss out through injury, although the latter is understood to be going through a fitness test at Carrington on Tuesday.

Sign up to our ManchesterWorld Today newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

While Lindelof and Bailly have been at United for a combined nine full seasons, it’s incredible how rarely the pair have played alongside each other, and the numbers should provide plenty of reason for concern for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly talk to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Credit: Getty.

An alarming record

Lindelof joined the Red Devils in 2017 - a year after Bailly made the move to Old Trafford - and in the last four years they have only played alongside each other 28 times, that’s roughly seven games per season.

However, several of those joint appearances have come when one has been introduced from the bench. In fact, the pair have only spent 1,542 minutes playing together, which equates to just over 17 full 90-minute matches.

Even more concerning, Lindleof and Bailly have only actually started together 18 times at United, and played a full match alongside each other on just 12 occasions.

United are expected to line up with a back four at the weekend, although Solskjaer has at times played with three centre-backs. Assuming the Norwegian does opt for a centre-back pairing, he may be wary that Lindelof and Bailly have only started at centre-back together 14 times.

When have they played together?

From the 28 games the defenders have played alongside each other, the Red Devils have a relatively positive record, winning 17, drawing four and losing seven.

One of those defeats occurred this season, when the Red Devils lost 1-0 to West Ham United in the third round of the League Cup.

A few other notable joint starts include last season’s Europa League final defeat to Villarreal, and a 4-2 loss to Liverpool just a few weeks prior. The pair also played the full 90 at Anfield in December 2018, when a 3-1 defeat saw Jose Mourinho lose his job.

However, there have been some favourable results when the Swede and Ivorian have taken the field together, such as a 3-1 FA Cup win over Arsenal in 2019, and both legs of the famous Champions League victory over Paris Saint-Germain, although Bailly did play at right-back during the win in France and was hooked after 36 minutes.

Lindelof and Bailly both started at the Parc des Princes. Credit: Getty.

Why are the numbers low?

To give these stats more substance, Maguire has been at United for a little over two years and has partnered Lindelof 85 times, while the former Benfica defender has played with Luke Shaw on 111 occasions, compared to just 28 with Bailly.

That’s partly due to Bailly’s injury record. The No.3 had five different injuries last season, missed most of 2019/20 and had long periods on the sidelines during each of the two preceding campaigns.

It’s also worth remembering Lindelof was used sparingly in his first season and since Maguire has signed he’s been a near constant presence in the side. Often Lindelof and Bailly have been rotated beside the United captain, when both have been fit.

Our view

After all that, it is worth asking whether game time together really makes much of a difference. There weren’t such similar concerns when Maguire and Varane lined up alongside each other earlier this term, and Lindelof and Bailly must have gained some understanding from training together over the last four years.

But it’s the magnitude of the upcoming fixtures that places such burden on this relatively unpractised defensive duo. The Red Devils have six huge fixtures in the next month and need to be at their very best after an indifferent start to the campaign.

Bailly would be the biggest concern for Solskjaer. While the 27-year-old is an excellent one-on-one defender, he has a habit of losing concentration and lacking positional discipline. It may be up to Lindelof to marshal the backline, something he’s rarely done since joining the Red Devils in 2017.