Valencia head coach Marcelino has backed “extraordinary” Eric Bailly to get back to his best at Manchester United.
Bailly trained ahead of United’s trip to Valencia after overcoming a knock and will be hoping for just his second appearance since Newcastle visited in October, when he was unceremoniously hauled off after just 19 minutes.
It underlined how far the Ivory Coast international had fallen down the pecking order after such a bright start to life at Old Trafford following his move from a Villarreal side managed by current Valencia coach Marcelino in 2016.
“I was so lucky to have Eric as a footballer, as a player,” he said. “He’s an extraordinary player and an extraordinary person.
“I’m so sorry for his injuries, because I know his performances are conditioned by this. I know he is having a hard time and suffering when trying to have a stable rhythm in the team.
“I wish nothing but the best for him and I feel his youth will help him through these hard times and he will be very important for United.
“I think he’s playing really well for United when he plays, but because of his injuries he’s not getting the luck he deserves.”
Until last week’s 2-2 draw with Arsenal, the previous time Bailly had completed a full 90 minutes for United was the goalless home draw with Valencia.
That result put the Old Trafford giants’ progress in doubt, only for Mourinho’s men to secure a memorable 2-1 win at Juventus before edging past Young Boys through Marouane Fellaini’s late effort.
The Belgium midfielder handled in the build-up to the goal that secured the last-gasp 1-0 win that means Valencia will be playing in the Europa League next year, leaving a bitter taste in the mouth of reported United target Carlos Soler.
“It’s true that the hand of Fellaini, if he hadn’t scored, we would have the opportunity still intact, so I have no more comment for this,” the midfielder said.
“Obviously we are a bit p***ed off with the situation, but we cannot change it so we will have to look forward.”
Wednesday offers the chance to secure a result that will see Valencia seeded for the Europa League draw, while offering the chance to alleviate the pressure given their La Liga struggles.
Pressure is mounting on Marcelino, with his side languishing in 15th and owner Peter Lim is said to be coming to the Group H clash.
“I know how the club thinks about me and the feelings they have for me, so I’m not doubtful in this aspect,” Marcelino added.
“I feel absolutely sure about my position in the club and also I think that coaches should always have their priorities clear, and my experiences as a coach tell me my priorities should be trying to improve our results and I am convinced this will happen, that we will get better.”
Manchester United have already booked their spot in the knockout stages of the Champions League after they caused an upset against Juventus at Turin and managed to edge out Young Boys at Old Trafford.
United can finish as group winners in the unlikely scenario that they beat Valencia and Young Boys manage to shock Juventus and make them drop points.
Either way, Mourinho will be looking to make a case for himself in Europe, with qualification into next year’s Champions League looking increasingly unlikely thanks to their domestic troubles.
Valencia’s fate is sealed but they will be looking to end their UCL campaign on a high, and enhance their confidence heading back into La Liga duties where they are just three points above the drop zone.
We take a look at some of the talking points ahead of the game.
VALENCIA SEEK REDEMPTION
La Liga’s title contenders from last season have had a nightmare start to their league campaign. Marcelino’s men have won just three games out of a possible 15, with two of them coming in the last four games.
A shadow of their former selves, Valencia have been dismal in Europe too, dropping points against Young Boys, the supposed minnows of the group.
Goncalo Guedes – Valencia’s talisman from last season – has to do better to shut down claims that he is a one-season-wonder. The Portugal winger has not scored a single goal in any competition this season and is a long way from the form that convinced Los Che to fork out €40 million to PSG for his services.
A win against United could boost the spirit of the Valencia camp and provide a morale-booster as they enter a crucial period in the league and then the Europa league.
YOUNGSTERS AT UNITED ON SONG
The 4-1 win against Fulham comes as a huge relief to the Red Devils after a desperate month in the league which saw them go through a four-game winless run.
However, if positives can be gleaned from the poor run of results, it is worth noting how the youngsters have performed in the last couple of games.
Marcus Rashford has raised his personal bar over the last month – though goals still elude him on a consistent basis – and will be looking to keep it up as the squad travels to Spain. The England international assisted twice as United came from behind to secure a point against Southampton and followed it up with a promising show against Arsenal. The youngster’s best performance arguably came against Fulham when he capped off two assists with a screamer.
Another name that has been on the lips of the United faithfuls from last week is Diogo Dalot, who will be looking to impress against Valencia in a bid to seal a spot in the starting XI. The Portuguese did well against Sead Kolasinac against Arsenal before putting on a commendable show against Fulham.
Add Anthony Martial to the list and it’s clear that the youngsters at United are currently more reliable than Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba.
AN INTERESTING MIDFIELD BATTLE
Daniel Parejo’s good form in the league is probably the only silver lining on the dark cloud that has been hovering over Valencia. An in-form Parejo can form a strong partnership with Geoffrey Kondogbia and Carlos Soler in midfield. The midfield has had problems in recent times, but in Fred, Marouane Fellaini and Pogba they are up against one of the most under-performing midfields in the Premier League.
The contrasting styles between the two sets of players makes the midfield battle an intriguing one. Valencia prefer building up patiently, stalling the ball in the neutral third and choosing their moments to attack from the centre.
On the other hand, United often bypass their midfield and launch cross-field balls to the opposite wingers. Pogba and Fellaini are not as involved in the build-up as much as their counterparts. The pair are better accustomed to providing aerial threat, winning aerial duels in midfield and facilitating quick breaks.
It will be interesting to see how the two managers plan on setting up their midfield.
Eric Bailly returned to Manchester United training on Tuesday but Anthony Martial, Luke Shaw and Chris Smalling were all absent.
Bailly played his first match for two months in last week’s draw with Arsenal but then sat out Saturday’s victory over Fulham, which Martial and Shaw also missed.
Smalling started that game but was replaced in the second half after suffering an injury.
With qualification for the Champions League knockout stages already secured ahead of Wednesday’s trip to Valencia, Jose Mourinho will not take any risks and is likely to rest a number of players.
He has already announced that Paul Pogba, who has been left out of the starting line-up for the last two games, and Andreas Pereira will start, and goalkeeper Sergio Romero is also set to play.
Diogo Dalot, who has shone on his first two Premier League starts, looks likely to be rested after missing training along with fellow defender Matteo Darmian, while Victor Lindelof and Alexis Sanchez are definitely sidelined through injury.
There could be spaces on the plane, meanwhile, for 17-year-old academy stars Mason Greenwood and James Garner, who both took part in the session at Carrington.