Harry Maguire is the man Erik ten Hag has turned to in a complete turnaround from fifth-choice to a certain starter… the irony is unavoidable but the England international is back after another imperious showing
- Harry Maguire produced another imperious performance in weekend win
- The Manchester United defender helped Erik ten Hag to a needed victory
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The irony is unavoidable. Harry Maguire, the man whose career at Manchester United was brought to a shuddering halt by Erik ten Hag, is the man the manager has turned to save his job.
It’s funny how things work out. Not that it will make any odds to Maguire. Regardless of how he might feel about the way the Dutchman has treated him over the past 18 months, the 30-year-old’s overriding priority has simply been to play.
He adores playing for England and losing the United captaincy and his place in the starting XI has thrown his role under Gareth Southgate into intense scrutiny. How can you pick, let alone start, a player if they aren’t featuring for their club?
It is a question with which Southgate has battled. But on Thursday, when the England head coach names his latest squad, he can select Maguire happy in the knowledge that he will not be required to justify his decision for the umpteenth time.
Because Maguire is back. He was imperious on Saturday as United — through Bruno Fernandes’s 91st-minute winner — clinched a crucial victory to alleviate the concerns over under-fire Ten Hag’s management.
Harry Maguire produced a strong performance at the heart of Man United’s defence against Fulham
Maguire is enjoying a consistent starting run in matches and has impressed in recent games
And all after Maguire was checked for signs of concussion twice following a hefty blow to the head inside the opening three minutes.
It was a massive win for a squad and a manager under intense scrutiny. Goalkeeper Andre Onana was asked after the match about the pressure on the squad and replied: ‘You just have to be prepared when you play for Manchester United.
‘It is the price to pay when you are playing for such a big club. We showed a lot of character and I am happy. We are together. The celebrations say everything.’
Maguire has more to celebrate than anyone else. Ten Hag has never needed convincing of the fundamentals of Maguire’s ability to defend. Head it. Clear it. Block it. Maguire’s out-and-out defending is his most impressive attribute.
But his ability to build from the back, to create the necessary angles, to execute incisive passes — that is the area of Maguire’s game by which Ten Hag appears to be unconvinced. The United boss may still need persuading of Maguire’s value in terms of how he wants to implement his footballing philosophy. But — at the very least — Ten Hag is coming round to the idea that Maguire can carry out his specific instructions.
‘He was playing a massive game and it was a very good performance,’ Ten Hag said of Maguire after the win at Craven Cottage. ‘He showed leadership in and out of possession. I’m very pleased.’
Maguire’s attitude has never been questioned. The story of his recent renaissance is one of patience and determination.
There was a deal to be done with West Ham over the summer. Money — inevitably — was an issue. Maguire didn’t want to take a pay cut from his near £200,000-per-week wage at United. West Ham couldn’t afford that.
Maguire the man whose career at Manchester United was brought to a shuddering halt by Erik ten Hag (right), is the man the manager has turned to save his job
But it wasn’t just finances that stopped Maguire swapping Manchester for London. The central defender also believed he could eventually convince Ten Hag of his worth.
Moving to West Ham would have guaranteed his England place. Yet Maguire is headstrong, even stubborn. Many people in the game told Maguire to cut his losses and move on, that his obstinacy was misplaced. Ten Hag, after all, was providing no indications that there would be a route back into the starting XI.
Lisandro Martinez and Raphael Varane were the Dutchman’s preferred pairing. Victor Lindelof was next in line. Even left back Luke Shaw was favoured ahead of Maguire at centre back at the end of last season.
Now, Maguire’s unyielding belief that his United career was revivable — if only he was given an opportunity — has been rewarded.
Maguire has started United’s last six matches. How long his resurrection in the heart of United’s defence can continue will depend on a myriad of factors, however.
Much like his route back into the starting XI, Maguire’s future in the team rests on injuries. Not just his own fitness, but that of others. The real test of whether Ten Hag has U-turned on his assessment of Maguire will come when the absent players return to action.
Now, Maguire’s unyielding belief that his United career was revivable has been rewarded
Maguire has gone from being United’s fifth-choice centre back to a certain starter
Martinez should be available from his long-term foot injury early next year. There is hope Shaw can return from a muscular problem by the end of the month. Lindelof missed the win at Craven Cottage because of illness.
There’s no doubt that Maguire has benefitted from the misfortune of others.
For now, he must compete with Varane and Jonny Evans. But after his display at Fulham, Maguire is undroppable for Wednesday’s crucial Champions League tie in Copenhagen.
From fifth-choice centre back to a certain starter. That’s some turnaround.
FACT BOX TITLE
FULHAM (4-2-3-1): Leno 6.5; Castagne 6.5, Bassey 7, Ream 6, Robinson 6.5; Wilson 7 (Cairney 90min), Palhinha 6.5; Iwobi 6 (Jimenez 89), Pereira 6.5 (Decordova-Reid 81), Willian 6 (Lukic 76, 6); Muniz 5 (Vinicius 76, 6)
Booked: Robinson, Palhinha, Iwobi, Wilson, Jimenez.
Manager: Marco Silva 6.
MANCHESTER UNITED (4-2-3-1): Onana 7; Wan-Bissaka 7, Maguire 8, Evans 6.5, Dalot 6; Eriksen 5 (Mount 79), McTominay 6.5; Antony 4 (Pellistri 64, 7), Fernandes 7, Garnacho 6 (Varane 90); Hojlund 5.5 (Martial 79).
Booked: Garnacho, Dalot.
Scorer: Fernandes 90+1
Manager: Ten Hag 6.5
Referee: John Brooks 6. Attendance: 24,415.
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