After being held to a draw at West Brom just a few days ago, Manchester United needed a big response on Thursday night.
And Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got exactly that, as his side got off to the perfect start in the last-32 of the Europa League as the Red Devils beat Real Sociedad 4-0 in Turin.
It was the first of two legs for United in the knockout stage of the competition and they passed the test with flying colours.
Bruno Fernandes capitalised on some sloppy defending from Sociedad to score the opener before the Portugal international doubled their advantage with a fine effort from outside the box for a second which survived a VAR scare after he was initially flagged for offside.
This had all the potential to be a banana skin for United. Sociedad have seen an upturn in form in recent weeks, but the Red Devils thwarted their efforts from start to finish.
A large part of that was due to Eric Bailly. Harry Maguire may have worn the captain’s armband on the night but it was his fellow centre-back who led from the back, making some last-ditch tackles to deny Sociedad any real clear-cut opportunities to score. He made a match-high eight clearances, that being the most out of any player on the pitch, and at least three more than Maguire, who could only manage five.
He also won 75% of his duels, winning every single one of his individual battles in the air. For context, out of the entire United squad, none of his teammates came close to matching Bailly in that department, with Maguire only managing to win three out of a possible seven duels.
Such was his level of dominance that Sociedad striker Alexander Isak endured a night to forget at the Allianz Stadium. The Swedish international has scored nine goals in 19 La Liga appearances this season but was restricted to just one shot on target.
He also missed one big chance and failed to offer much of a threat going forwards as he didn’t win a single duel from four attempts. This was thanks in no small part to Bailly as he delivered an immense defensive shift that will have left Solskjaer standing up and taking note.
In the absence of Victor Lindelof, Bailly stepped up to the plate once again to put in a monstrous performance for Solskjaer’s side on Thursday night.
AND in other news, Woodward must prioritise Man Utd signing Jules Kounde in the summer…