What can Harry Maguire bring to Manchester United?
One of the biggest sagas of the summer has finally ended for United supporters everywhere: Leicester City’s Harry Maguire has completed his moved to Old Trafford for 80 million pounds, thus becoming the most expensive defender of all time and one of the Red Devils’ most expensive signings ever.
Now, this signing dragged on for the majority of the summer and given how much money the club has invested, the most obvious question is if Harry Maguire is worth this pursuit and money. Well, if we consider his output at Leicester, while good, it doesn’t really shows Maguire being worth that kind of money, but there are many examples of defenders proving their doubters wrong after commanding high fees, an obvious one being Virgil Van Dijk, but other one worth pointing out is Portuguese defender Pepe, who costed Real Madrid 30 million euros in 2007 (a very expensive fee back in those days).
Since the football market in terms of pricing has gone basically batshit crazy at this point, we have to look at Harry Maguire and see what he can bring to the table to improve United’s defensive woes that have been going on for over five seasons now.
Building up from the back.
One of the aspects that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been trying to implement at his United side (and one that has been shown more during preseason) is building up from the back with his center backs and this is an area that United has been struggling with since the loss of Rio Ferdinand back in 2014.
Victor Lindelöf has proven to be a quality improvement in that department, but he is only one in a variety of options that are not well-suited to do this kind of approach. Eric Bailly and Axel Tuanzebe are quite decent passing from the back, but the former is injury-prone (he in fact just came out from surgery and wouldn’t be available for at least four months) and the latter is still developing, so it can be perceived as too risky to give him a starting role at the moment.
All other options are a lot less encouraging. Out of Marcos Rojo, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, none of them have the capacity to get the ball from the back and they all have quite the gallery of mistakes in that regard, which has resulted in cases like Smalling losing in the pecking order during the preseason, according to reports.
Despite his imposing frame (more on that later), Maguire is a vast improvement from all the options that United have at the moment since he is quite adept with the ball at his feet. As someone who has been watching him play since his Hull City days, his passing is actually quite good and he is not afraid to do a few forward passes that might be deemed too risky for some, but it could be an interesting option when the team finds itself overcrowded with rivals.
It has been stated multiple times by various experts in the game in recent years that defenders now have to be the first creators of plays and this is something that Maguire is going to help a lot with.
Harry Maguire doesn’t only have a big head, but he sure knows how to use it. He was the Premier League’s defender with most successful headers last season, surpassing even the likes of Liverpool’s Virgil Van Dijk in the process. The English international has a knack of scoring from set pieces, which is an area in which United has been quite dreadful in the last couple of seasons.
I have to say that set pieces have been an area of concern for United given the lack of a player skillful enough to kick the ball and players suited to hit the ball on the other end. Sure, Fellaini was used by the likes of Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho for this, but he was mostly referenced by the opposition while Maguire coming from the defense can be a bit more difficult to mark in that regard given his intelligence to move in the rival’s area and his physical frame that makes him quite hard to overcome.
Out of the squad’s current options for the center backs positions, none of those players can provide a strong presence as far as headers go and that lack of imposition has been a running issue with the defense. The only one who has any level of quality in that department is Chris Smalling, but his lack of consistency and being too prone to mistakes makes him a double-edged sword in that regard.
The Premier League is obviously known for being a very physical competition and this is something where Maguire has thrived in, considering the fact he is almost two meters long and weighs almost one hundred kilograms, which makes him one of the most physically imposing defenders in the game right now.
United is certainly not lacking in that regard, given that Rojo, Bailly, Jones and Smalling all have strong physical frames, but each and every single one of them carries their own set of drawbacks that we have mentioned so far, making Maguire the best choice in the group to partner Lindelöf.
This is another aspect that is worth pointing out: Maguire’s physicality makes a good balance to Lindelöf’s timing and more technical approach. This is not something unheard of; many great partnerships were constituted by a more physical center back and a more technical one (Piqué and Puyol, Vidic and Ferdinand, Hummels and Boateng, among others).
Other than price fee, the aspect that has been mentioned the most as a con to Maguire’s signing is his lack of pace and this is a factor that needs to be taken into consideration in a league that is known for being played in such a high pace.
Maguire’s imposing physical frame also makes him quite slow, so when he finds himself out of place or showing poor positioning in a circumstantial play, this can be exploited by fast players such as Mohamed Salah, Alexandre Lacazette or Raheem Sterling, among others, so this is something to keep in mind because, while Maguire has pretty decent positioning, all defenders have weaknesses that can be seized by the opposition.
Sure, his lack of pace might be compensated by Lindelöf’s support, but it’s perhaps the biggest drawback as far as this signing goes, although it has to be said that Maguire is proven in the Premier League, so that is the positive side of this equation because we have already seen how he fares in this league.
I’m one of those people that think that Harry Maguire is not the worth the fee that United has paid for him, but we have to see him on the pitch before making an assumption on whether it has been a waste of money or not. You can never really know how a signing can work out.
From a tactical point of view, Maguire provides solutions to multiple issues that have been hindering United’s defense in the last few years, which is something that needed to be done after so many transfer windows and he also provides the type of leadership that the team requires from the back.
Overall, I think this is a pretty good signing that, along with Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right-back, is going to provide something very important: balance. It has been a long time since Old Trafford witnessed an established, balanced defense and perhaps in the league opener against Chelsea we may be leaving these dark days behind us.
One can only hope.