The sight of Eric Bailly, who put on Manchester United's training gear and switched back to the first team, was a sight that caused eye pain.

They would need to have a heart of stone to have no sympathy for the defender of the United States for the last year or two, as his progress was devastated by injuries.

Just as Bailly returned to the game late last season, he was injured in a first leg against Chelsea by a serious injury to the center belt, which meant that he played only twelve league games last season.

Anyway, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed to judge him – he started six times – and given the central defensive problems of United before the arrival of Harry Maguire, the Ivory Coast international continued to be at the forefront of his manager. The struggles of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo last season were enough to bolster Bailly's reputation, even in his absence.

But at that moment, Bailly was again cruelly injured and lost the duel with Tottenham in Shanghai in July. Another knee injury that required surgery and kept him on track so far.

"We hope to get him back at Christmas," said Solskajer after a victory before the season against Kristiansund to the reporters in Norway. "It was positive news from the surgeon, he had the surgery and [the surgeon] I was sure that everything was being repaired and that he would be fine. That is good news."

Bailly's appearance in United training, a month before his expected return flight, was to cause both excitement and caution.

Due to Axel Tuanzebe's inexperience and Victor Lindelof's staggering form this season, Bailly may be United's second-best center-back.

But we've been here before and United has to be careful not to get hurt. Bailly's body seemed to be brittle in the past and he needs time to fully recover.

Time should also mean a new deal in Old Trafford.

The latest proposals are that United Bailly will actually sign a contract extension, with his current term expiring in summer 2020. Undoubtedly, critics will fire their usual darts at United's decision-makers when this happens, but the club has little choice. Bailly is a 25-year-old elite defender who cost the club 30 million pounds when he signed up in 2016. Injuries have severely hampered him, yes, but letting him go for free would be the craziest call. You would not bet he would display his talent elsewhere when he leaves.

Bailly has repeatedly shown that a top player is there.

Despite his predilection for a weird mistake, he is reliable and often excellent in the background. He feels good on the ball and may find in Maguire the absolutely solid central defense partner he needs.

The Bailly situation is difficult for United to manage from a contractual and injury perspective.

There will be some who (harshly) argue that he had his chance in the club.

However, the well-considered point of view is to give Bailly another opportunity if it fits perfectly and if the defensive options inevitably get longer during the festive season.

The defense of United was not as weak this season as last. They conceded only 12 goals in 12 games. But there is every chance that Bailly will come back to improve this record.