When a team like Manchester United are underperforming, the finger of blame is frequently pointed at someone. And ever since he has arrived at Old Trafford in 2019, Harry Maguire has frequently been that man.
Being an £80million signing, the centre back carries a lot of expectation on his back and he was expected to transform the Red Devils in the same way that Virgil van Dijk did two years prior at Liverpool. And, obviously, he hasn’t.
Criticism has been aimed at Maguire from all angles, with some fans going as far as saying that they want the defender to be sold as soon as possible. But the England international is suffering as a result of his transfer fee.
But the former Leicester City defender didn’t set his price tag, and one would imagine he wasn’t expecting to be made captain six months after putting pen to paper on a deal.
Of course, those factors don’t justify some of his poorer performances and controversial decisions he has made of late, but it provides context to a situation where the bar may just be a tad too high for the 28-year-old.
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Stripping Maguire of the captaincy, as reported by The Mirror, also suggests that Rangnick too thinks that his no.5 is the issue at the club. But the player is not the problem at the Theatre of Dreams, nor is he the sole reason that United are struggling to re-build and become the club they once were.
Paul Merson’s analysis of the signing on Soccer Saturday when the deal was confirmed has rung true, especially his comment of: “You have to remember when he plays for Leicester, they play, they drop back and defend on the edge of their box, there is no space behind. The ball comes in the middle, he heads it out, he comes out running with the ball.
“He kicks off now with Man Utd and you are on the halfway line and all of a sudden you are playing against Arsenal and you are on the halfway line and balls are going over the top for Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and for Man City for Sergio Aguero and it is pace, pace, pace.”
Maguire’s purchase was a poorly thought-out one, but a player of his quality simply cannot be kicked to the curb. The Englishman is strong, powerful and a solid ball-playing defender and is capable of playing for top six football.
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With a weak midfield in front of him with no naturally defensive-minded player sweeping, the former Hull City man is being exposed.
One of Maguire’s biggest assets is his willingness to drive the ball forward, but it isn’t second nature for Fred or Scott McTominay to then slot into the back-four, meaning that part of his skill set is essentially nullified, or he leaves a gaping hole in defence when he strides on.
And, as Merson said, he has been forced to play a style of football that far from suits. High-pressing, aggressive teams rely on pace, organisation and the entire squad buying into a vision, and you could question United on all of those fronts.
It is no secret that the Red Devils’ lack of quality in midfield is a significant problem and an issue that even Ole Gunnar Solskjaer identified as one that urgently needed solving, as did Ralf Rangnick last month.
West Ham’s Declan Rice, on the surface, looks the perfect player to slot into the no.6 role for United and it would presumably see a lift in both morale and quality amongst the squad.
On the international stage, both in a back-three and back-four, Maguire is more than capable of being rock-solid and leading by example, and it is no coincidence that he is playing in a more organised side with a stronger set of players in the centre of the park.
Having not spent a penny in the January transfer window, there are no excuses for United not to sign a holding midfielder in the summer – whether Paul Pogba stays or not.
Maguire and Raphael Varane as a pairing are certainly good enough for the club to move closer to their overall targets, but they will forever be questioned if they aren’t given a helping hand from those in the centre of the park.