Manchester United manager Jose Mourinho has hailed Eric Bailly's early comeback from injury and is pleased to have the dominant defender back for a busy festive schedule. The 22-year-old Ivory Coast centre-back was involved in a matchday squad for the first time in six weeks against Everton on Sunday (4 December) after damaging knee ligaments during a 4-0 Premier League defeat to Chelsea in October.
While Bailly was left as an unused substitute at Goodison Park, his mere presence was a real boost at this stage given that he could have been sidelined for up to two months. And while Mourinho is evidently delighted at the recovery of a player who has already established himself as one of United's key performers since a £30m ($38.1m) summer move from Villarreal, he is equally aware that such a return will be prove to be short-lived ahead of next month's Africa Cup of Nations tournament in Gabon.
Speaking to MUTV about Bailly's return after that draw on Merseyside, Mourinho said: "It's impossible for the same players to play every match and in this moment we are having that because of a lack of available options.
"So to have Eric back is good news, even though it is only for a few weeks because we know he goes to the Africa Cup of Nations very soon, but at least in this busy period of Christmas we have one more option. That's important."
Like Bailly, who could build his match fitness by featuring for United in their Europa League Group A tie against Ukrainian side Zorya Luhansk in Odessa on Thursday night (8 December), Chris Smalling has also yet to play a single minute since that humiliating experience at Stamford Bridge due to a broken toe. Mourinho has instead been forced to rely upon a makeshift centre-back partnership comprising Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo, with the latter incredibly lucky to avoid being sent off against Everton following a reckless two-footed challenge on Idrissa Gana Gueye.
With young striker James Wilson having been ruled out for the entire 2016/17 campaign due to anterior cruciate ligament damage suffered on loan at Championship outfit Derby County, United's only other pressing injury worry at present concerns Luke Shaw. The left-back, who returned to action in pre-season after missing 10 months with a horrific double fracture to his right leg, has endured a difficult start to life under Mourinho and played no part at Everton after being replaced by Daley Blind at half-time of last week's emphatic 4-1 EFL Cup quarter-final defeat of West Ham United.
"The injury [to Luke] is a pity," the manager said. "We were on this process of developing him as a player - he has a lot to learn and great potential to develop so we were giving him 90 minutes. Not consecutive matches but 90 minutes against Feyenoord then, one week later, 90 minutes against West Ham, but he got this little injury."