If anyone was going to challenge Dean Henderson as Manchester United's conductor at Luton it was Harry Maguire. The United captain's Yorkshire bark can usually be heard at Salford Quays on an Old Trafford matchday and he was especially encouraging of his defensive partner.
"Up, Eric." "Time, Eric." Sunday League amateurs have found this post-restart period reassuring in that elite professionals use the same in-game jargon. Maguire's burly presence alone has reinforced the United defence even though his standout performance remains his debut.
Eric Bailly is one of the United squad's extroverts though he is not the most communicative on the pitch and it has contributed to certain mishaps. He ended up in a Shanghai hospital with the linesman's flag raised and his sickening collision with Maguire in the FA Cup semi-final was endemic of his haphazardness.
Now 26, Bailly is into his fifth season with United and managed 20 league starts in the last three - four fewer than the 24 in his excellent debut campaign. Bailly was deemed overpriced upon his £30million arrival from Villarreal but within a year his fee was filed among the few bargains United have negotiated on Ed Woodward's watch.
Yet Bailly peaked in 2016-17 and he is effectively on trial, with his contract up in 2022. Apart from that thudding impact injury at Wembley in July, he has stayed free of injury this calendar year and his partnership with Maguire, the only survivor from the crushing Crystal Palace defeat, at Luton was potentially a warm-up act for Brighton on Saturday.
Bailly has never properly recovered from the horror show at Brighton in August 2018 when he was culpable for all three of the hosts' goals. It was not a coincidence that, of their three Premier League trips to Brighton, United buckled and lost in front of the Seagulls' hardcore supporters and strolled to victory in an Amex devoid of fans.
Bailly's next league start after the Brighton debacle against Newcastle lasted 19 minutes and United were 2-0 down in that infamously fraught comeback. He lined up twice more in the league under Jose Mourinho, including in the Portuguese's last stand at Anfield, but Mourinho had grown frustrated with Bailly's brittleness and Phil Jones started ahead of him in the 2018 FA Cup final.
Tottenham's All or Nothing Amazon documentary sheds some light on Mourinho's attitude to injured or unwell players. John Terry revealed Mourinho used to blank players in the Chelsea physio room and 'medical department' was one of his underrated dismissals when asked about a United player's well-being. Bailly began to grate on him after withdrawing from the April 2018 defeat to West Brom - which crowned Manchester City as champions - through sickness and the centre-back missed the player of the year awards with toothache.
Luton was just the fourth time Bailly and Maguire have lined up together in an axis and all of them have come in cup competitions (Club Brugge, Norwich, Linz). United have a 100 per cent winning record with the two and conceded once but Bailly is yet to start in the league since his classy comeback at Chelsea on February 17.
Bailly was unfortunate not to keep his place six days later against Watford but Victor Lindelof has never been dropped by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. There have been opportunities for Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe to depose Lindelof but, call it Scandinavian solidarity, Lindelof has kept his place and the numbers are flattering: United had the third-best defensive record in the top flight last term and lost two of the three league games Lindelof missed through injury. Lindelof saved his best until last when he mollified Jamie Vardy.
Lindelof and Bailly, Mourinho's central defensive signings, were not played together in a pair for over a year and their matrimony on Mourinho's watch ended at Brighton. Solskjaer has selected them as a duo on four occasions with underwhelming results: Bailly was sent off against Huddersfield, dithered against Kylian Mbappe and injured himself in a draw with Chelsea.
Maguire-Bailly is a more complementary partnership but United triggered the two-year extension in Bailly's deal in January and his future hinges on this season. United aim to jettison at least two centre halves this summer in Chris Smalling and Marcos Rojo and it could be another two next year - Phil Jones and Bailly.
Teden Mengi is now a first-team squad member, Axel Tuanzebe is nearing match fitness and a central defensive addition is probable next year, although United have not ruled out recruiting one before the current window closes. That decision may rest on a Bailly performance.