Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho will make the most of having Eric Bailly fit again over the Christmas period before he departs for the Africa Cup of Nations.

Bailly, 22, turned in an exemplary performance on his return to first-team action on Thursday (8 December) as United sealed a 2-0 win over Zorya Luhansk, booking their place in the knock-out stages of the Europa League.

Eric Bailly
Bailly impressed back in the United back line on Thursday. Reuters

The Ivory Coast international had not played since suffering knee ligament damage in the Premier League defeat to Chelsea at the end of October but was named alongside Marcos Rojo at the heart of defence as United came through a tricky test in tough conditions in Odessa.

Bailly's return to fitness has come earlier than expected but his involvement in Ivory Coast's Africa Cup of Nations campaign means United could be without their defender for most of January and the first week of February, depending on how far the The Elephants progress in the competition.

Phil Jones and Rojo have started all but one of United's last seven games at centre-half together with Chris Smalling also still out injured. While Mourinho has been impressed with the duo, he hopes Bailly can now ease the strain on them before he sets off for international duty.

When asked about his returning centre-half, Mourinho told BT Sport: "Important. I think Jones and Marcos they did five great matches for us, five in a row playing so well and so solid but it is too much just for them too.

"So to have Eric back for just a couple of weeks and then he goes to the Africa Cup of Nations, but in this busy Christmas period it allows us to rotate a little bit, (it) is good protection for us."

Goals from Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Zlatan Ibrahimovic saw United ease past Zorya in freezing conditions in Ukraine. They will learn their last 32 opponents on Monday when the draw for the first knock out stage takes place.