Chris Smalling: Eric Bailly plays like Nemanja Vidic at Manchester United

by Leo Nieboer

Chris Smalling has lauded Manchester United teammate Eric Bailly and believes the Ivorian plays like former captain Nemanja Vidic.

Bailly was the first of four signings made by Jose Mourinho over the summer, arriving from Villarreal back in June for a fee of £30m.

The 22-year-old, despite initial concerns surrounding his aptitude for weathering English football’s notorious physicality, has made an extraordinary start to life at Old Trafford and produced a constant supply of powerful, semi-barbaric performances.

Speaking on MUTV, Smalling claimed Bailly possesses a similar style to the legendary Serbian.

“The more games we play together, the more we’re getting used to one another,” he said.

“As defenders we need to be vocal and he’s getting a lot stronger at that, with his English really improving.

“We’ve got certain calls and certain words which he, and any foreign player that comes in, can understand, no matter if his English is advanced or not.

“It’s about developing that, and the more games we get together I think we’ll get stronger and stronger.

“Nemanja was one of those defenders who was very aggressive, very dominant and took no nonsense.

“Eric plays the same way. He can go through a tackle and he doesn’t take risks. If it needs to go, it goes! You can see the similarities there and I expect Eric to have many good years here.”

The similarity between Vidic and Bailly is simply too obvious to ignore. They are both unquestionably old-school, traditional defenders and therefore – somewhat ironically – different from today’s archetypal technically gifted centre-back.

As a pair, Vidic and Bailly revert to the original craft of being a centre back – a style that places emphasis on pure aggression, outmuscling the opponent, and throwing your head into places that most wouldn’t place their foot.

It is, in many ways, a controlled form of barbarism that hallmarks Bailly’s game. At the same time, though, the Ivorian, just like Vidic did, implements a clear structure to his game with regard to mastering the basics, like an invisible rule hidden behind a menacing face of chaos.

Whether Bailly will replicate the achievements of Vidic remains to be seen. The early signs, however, are unavoidably promising.

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