Manchester United are in talks with Eric Bailly over a new contract, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has confirmed.
The centre-back, who played in his 100th game in all competitions for the Red Devils as they drew 1-1 with Milan in the Europa League last-16 first leg on Thursday, sees his deal expire next year.
Bailly joined for a reported £30million from Villarreal in 2016, making him the club’s first signing under Jose Mourinho, but persistent injury troubles mean he has started just 27 league matches in the past four seasons.
The Ivory Coast international, who turns 27 next month, has largely impressed when called upon this season, with United keeping eight clean sheets and conceding 12 goals in the 15 matches Bailly has played.
Indeed, since his debut in August 2016, United have won 65 per cent of matches with Bailly in the starting line-up compared with 53 per cent without him. They have also averaged more points per game (2.1 compared to 1.8) and fewer goals against (0.8 compared to 1.0).
Solskjaer is expected to pursue the signing of a new central defender in the transfer window but he appears keen to keep Bailly at the club regardless of potential incomings.
@EricBailly24 is set to become a United centurion!
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 11, 2021
“We’ve started talking to Eric and Eric’s representatives,” Solskjaer said. “Eric’s been keeping fitter for longer and you can see Eric’s performances as well. I’ve been very happy with him.
“His playing style has sometimes made him lose too many games because 100 games is not enough for the period he’s been here. He’s getting more and more robust, so he’s one we’re talking to.”
United host West Ham in the Premier League on Sunday hoping to build on last weekend’s 2-0 derby win at Manchester City, while also moving nine points ahead of David Moyes’ side in fifth.
While he accepts the gap to league leaders City is perhaps too big to bridge – Pep Guardiola’s men are 14 points clear, having played a game more – Solskjaer is keen to strengthen the grip on second spot.
He is also happy not to have to face in-form Jesse Lingard, who has impressed on loan at the Hammers since his January move but is ineligible to play against his parent club.
4 – Jesse Lingard has scored four goals in six Premier League appearances for West Ham, as many as he netted in his previous 38 games in the competition for Man Utd. Rebound. #WHULEE pic.twitter.com/8J4bnBTtTy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) March 8, 2021
Solskjaer said: “For Jesse, it’s really worked out; for David [Moyes], it’s really worked out. And for us as a club as well, because we know that Jesse’s position is a 10 and we’ve got Bruno [Fernandes] there.
“For me, it was a no-brainer to get Jesse the chance to prove himself and play some football again. He’s really been bright for them. He’s finding back to himself.
“I think they’ve been brilliant. We played them in the FA Cup not long ago as well. We went to extra time, it was a tight, even game, he’s got players who score goals, creative, defend really well, really difficult on set-plays, and David’s done a tremendous job that we know he’s capable of.
“We’re very happy for him and we know this is a big game for us. It’s maybe too far ahead to City, so we need to consolidate our place in the top two or three, hopefully.”
United have something of an injury crisis for the match. Paul Pogba, Donny van de Beek and Juan Mata may not be fit before the international break in the final two weeks of March, while goalkeeper David de Gea may still need to quarantine for a few more days after returning from Spain following the birth of his daughter.
Forwards Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Edinson Cavani are also unlikely to be fit, meaning 18-year-old Amad Diallo, who scored his first goal for the club as a substitute against Milan, could be called upon again.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) March 12, 2021
“It’s a big change for him, he’s moved over here by himself but he’s coming into training every day, he’s working really hard, he knows he’s got a lot to learn,” Solskjaer added.
“He’s an exciting talent, of course, but he’ll have to get used to the tempo and the quality of the level he’s playing at now.
“He didn’t play much for Atalanta, either, so we’re gradually giving him more and more, but he’s been hungry to learn. His appetite in training has been spot on.”