Man United’s defensive options for the Europa League final: will it be Eric Bailly or Axel Tuanzebe?

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Ahead of Manchester United’s biggest game of the season, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a headache. Who does he play in the middle?

The Red Devils will enter the Europa League final against Villarreal on Wednesday evening with serious doubts as to who will be their central defender in the showpiece of Gdansk.

Normally, this would be captain Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, but the former has practically no chance to play due to an ankle injury sustained earlier this month.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has food for thought ahead of Man United’s Europa League final

Captain and central defender Harry Maguire seems to miss the final due to an ankle injury

Captain and central defender Harry Maguire seems to miss the final due to an ankle injury

He was injured in United's 3-1 Premier League win at Aston Villa on May 9

He was injured in United’s 3-1 Premier League win at Aston Villa on May 9

Eric Bailly (left) hopes to help Victor Lindelof (right) in United's central defense

Eric Bailly (left) hopes to help Victor Lindelof (right) in United’s central defense

Axel Tuanzebe vies with Bailly to become Lindelof's center-back in Maguire's absence

Axel Tuanzebe vies with Bailly to become Lindelof’s center-back in Maguire’s absence

With Maguire unfit, Solskjaer has two options for working with Lindelof: Eric Bailly or Axel Tuanzebe.

One of the duos will start next to Lindelof after Maguire did not participate in the last training of the club on Tuesday.

The United captain was only able to watch the session from the dugout before leaving 15 minutes early, adding to the idea that he will be a spectator at kick-off.

In Bailly and Tuanzebe, Solskjaer has his third and fourth choice center-backs. The pair auditioned for a place in Wednesday’s XI by both starting their 2-1 Premier League win at Wolves on Sunday while Lindelof was rested.

Together they played 38 games in all competitions this season, although it is clear that Bailly is preferred.

Bailly has only played two more games than Tuanzebe (20 against 18), but has started in exactly double that (18 against nine). As a result, Bailly has also gained more playing time after being on the field for 1,590 minutes compared to Tuanzebe’s 919.

Bailly has started 18 games for Manchester United this season, double the number Tuanzebe

Bailly has started 18 games for Manchester United this season, double the number Tuanzebe

What also works in Bailly’s favor is that he has kept eight clean sheets compared to Tuanzebe’s three.

Another telling factor in Bailly’s favor is the tackle success rate. The Ivory Coast international outperforms his teammate in this category with a 92.31 percent success rate. In comparison, Tuanzebe is only 54.17.

However, the pair are quite identical when it comes to duels. Bailly has won 33 of his 61 aerial duels (0.54 percent), while Tuanzebe has won 45 of his 85 aerial matches (0.47 percent).

In terms of total duels, Bailly has won 64 of his 112 (0.57 percent) – a figure slightly better than Tuanzebe’s 45 of 85 (0.53 percent).

At the age of 27, Bailly is the more experienced center-back and appears to be the front runner in the selection. In addition to the statistical evidence mentioned above, he has the greatest knowledge of playing on the bigger occasions.

Tuanzebe has won 45 of his 85 aerial duels this campaign in all competitions for the Red Devils

Tuanzebe has won 45 of his 85 aerial duels this campaign in all competitions for the Red Devils

BAILLY VERSUS TUANZEBE THIS TERM

Eric Bailly

20

18

1,590

8

1

61

33

112

64

22

13

12

92.31%

111

1

Played games

Games started

Played for minutes

Clean sheets

Helps

Antennas

Air gained

Duels

Won duels

Interceptions

Tackles

Tackles won

Tackle success

Chargebacks

Errors that lead to goals

Axel Tuanzebe

18

9

919

3

0

32

15

85

45

8

24

13

54.17%

62

0

He started the 2017 Carabao Cup final (which United won 3-2 against Southampton at Wembley) and so tasted the pressure of a showpiece while at the club. He also likely would have started that 2016-17 season’s successful Europa League final had he not been sent off against Celta Vigo in the semi-final return match.

United’s number 3 is in his fifth season with the club, but his time has been affected by injuries. Although he sometimes has a rash, he looks perfect next to Maguire as he is fast, strong and willing to put his body on the line.

After signing a new contract until 2024 last month, Bailly will be desperate to play against his old squad, Villarreal. His knowledge of Spanish football is also another factor that could weigh heavily in his favor.

Despite all the roads that point to Bailly, he and Lindelof together are not as fertile as Tuanzebe and the Swede.

In three games as a central defense duo, Lindelof and Tuanzebe, 23, have yet to lose together where they started. It’s a small sample, but they’ve won two of their three matches by drawing once – for a 66.7 percent win rate.

By contrast, Lindelof and Bailly have won together just once in four tries together this season (two draws and the other losses) for a 25 percent win rate.

Bailly has all the trappings to be the perfect foil for Maguire, but he's been hit with injuries

Bailly has all the trappings to be the perfect foil for Maguire, but he’s been hit with injuries

THE RECORDS OF BAILLY AND TUANZEBE IN COLLABORATION WITH LINDELOF

Bailly and Lindelof

Games: 4

Won: 1

Signed: 2

Lost: 1

Win Rate: 25%

Average goals against: 1.5

T.uanzebe and Lindelof

Games: 3

Won: 2

Signed: 1

Lost: 0

Win Rate: 66.7%

Average goals against 0.7

United averaged 0.7 goals against them when it’s Lindelof and Tuanzebe in the back, when it’s first and Bailly jumps to 1.5.

Maguire’s presence as a leader and footballer will be a blow to Solskjaer. United is virtually always there this season and has a win rate of 59.60 percent with him on the team (31 wins from 52 games). Without him, this drops to 50 percent (four wins from eight games).

Solskjaer will have to think a lot about who to replace his captain if, as expected, he misses due to an injury.

While his record with Lindelof this season may not suggest it, the more experienced Bailly seems like the safer bet.

All roads lead to Bailly, starting in Maguire's absence for the Europa League final

All roads lead to Bailly, starting in Maguire’s absence for the Europa League final

MANCHESTER UNITED WITH AND WITHOUT MAGUIRE THIS SEASON

With Maguire

52

31

11

10

107

2.1

58

1.1

59.60%

2

14.3

11.1

55.50%

11.1

11.1

56.2

76.70%

80.70%

10.8

12.3

Spell

Wins

Draws

To lose

Goals for

Average goals for

Goals against

Average goals against

Win rate

Points / game

Shots / game

Shots against / play

Possession

Average crosses / game

Avg. Crossing allowed

Last ⅓ passes / game

Passing Final Accuracy ⅓

Adjust Accuracy Opp Half

Fouls / match won

Faults / Contest Caused

Without Maguire

8

4

2

2

13

1.6

9

1.1

50.00%

1.8

11

12.1

51.80%

7.9

14.1

47.8

74.80%

79.60%

11.6

10.3

.