“Attack wins you games, defense wins you titles” – Sir Alex Ferguson
Its believed that there is not a single defender in the history of football, who can be called the best, because, Football is a team game, you attack as a team & you defend as a team! That’s why Sir Alex’s quote above will always be valid. That said, individual qualities of a defender always matter, what he brings to the team in terms of strength, positioning, reading, character, passing (short & long), tackling, pressing etc. absolutely matters. That brings us to the question, is Harry Maguire the best Center Back (CB) around & can he make a career at the club?
As I write this blog, Harry Maguire has received a red card in the game vs Denmark at the Nations League tournament. His spiral downward continues unfortunately, with the Greece fiasco in the summer & the season going from bad to worse.
Lets rewind to 1998, when David Beckham played for England at the World Cup & got a red card for kicking out on Diego Simeone or Cristiano Ronaldo winking after Wayne Rooney got a red card in the 2006 World Cup, mistakes have been committed by players – after all they are Humans. Both Beckham & Ronaldo were supported then by the club, the manager & the fans to the hilt. So will Maguire get the same backing like Beckham & Ronaldo? If not, then when? While off-the pitch battles continue, on-the pitch, is there a way out for Harry from all of this & improve his form? Lets evaluate.
Background: Harry Maguire arrived at Man United in the summer of 2019, as a desperate move by Man United, paying Leicester £80m & making him the world’s most expensive defender. However, he arrived a year later, to when he was needed even more desperately by the ex manager Jose Mourinho who had pleaded to Ed Woodward, asking him to get a commanding Center Back (CB). But Ed, refused to buy another defender, having bought Bailly & Lindelof previously. Jose gets the sack & Woodward splurges on a CB a year later in the summer of 2019, to grab Maguire’s signature.
Many fans believe that Maguire isn’t worth £80m, especially for a center back. But we are not dwelling too much into the valuation as we know how Ed Woodward & company operate on transfers.
Comparison with Lindelof: For now, lets looks at Maguire’s stats for last season & did he add value to the team & did he manage to plug holes that existed in the defense. Lets compare the stats between Maguire & Lindelof, who partnered him in defense for most of the season:
|All stats for Premier League only||Maguire in 19/20||Lindelof 19/20|
|Big Chances created||2||0|
|Accurate Passes per game||57.4 (87%)||51.7 (86%)|
|Accurate Passes own half||38.1 (91%)||36.9 (91%)|
|Accurate Passes opposition half||19.4 (78%)||14.8 (77%)|
|Accurate Long Balls||4.4 (57%)||2.1 (39%)|
|Interceptions per game||1.9||0.7|
|Tackles per game||1.0||0.8|
|Dribbled past per game||0.4||0.1|
|Clearances per game||4.1||3.5|
|Error led to shot||0||0|
|Error led to goal||0||0|
|Total duels won||6.3||3.9|
|Ground duels won||1.7||1.1|
|Aerial duels won||4.6||2.7|
The above table gives us a fair understanding that as a pair, both Maguire & Lindelof did prove to be an effective partnership at the heart of defense. United kept a total of 13 Clean Sheets (CS) in 2019-20 as against 7 the previous season. Almost double the number, which can be attributed to Maguire’s arrival at United & the partnership developed between the 2 CBs.
What’s wrong: Well, the question now begs what’s wrong with him this season? Lets look at some numbers & compare him to Van Dijk this time.
|All stats for Premier League only||Maguire in 20/21||Van Dijk 20/21|
|Big Chances created||0||0|
|Accurate Passes per game||55.7 (86%)||76.5 (90%)|
|Accurate Passes own half||34.3 (94%)||51.5 (97%)|
|Accurate Passes opposition half||21.3 (74%)||25 (79%)|
|Accurate Long Balls||4.0 (55%)||6.8 (57%)|
|Interceptions per game||1.7||1.3|
|Tackles per game||0.3||0.5|
|Dribbled past per game||0.3||0|
|Clearances per game||3||2.0|
|Error led to shot||0||0|
|Error led to goal||1.0||1.0|
|Total duels won||4.3||4.0|
|Ground duels won||1.7||1.0|
|Aerial duels won||2.7||3.0|
While the sample size is small & Maguire played a game less, the comparison with Van Dijk does portray what Maguire needs to do, to be the absolute best defender in the PL. Clearly, Van Dijk bosses across every stat there is!
There is another element to Van Dijk & what he does at Liverpool that makes him a solid CB – pressing. Lets compare both the defenders again to see what the stats show us:
|All stats for Premier League only||Maguire in 19/20||VanDijk 19/20|
|No. of Dribblers tackled||14||6|
|Att – (Dribbles Contested – Number of times dribbled past plus number of tackles)||36||15|
|Tkl% – (Percentage of dribblers tackled. Dribblers tackled divided by dribblers tackled plus times dribbled past)||38.9||40|
|Past – (Number of times dribbled past by an opposing player)||22||9|
|Press – (Number of times applying pressure to opposing player who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball)||240||133|
|Succ – (Successful Pressures – Number of times the squad gained possession withing five seconds of applying pressure)||90||46|
|% – (Successful Pressure Percentage – Percentage of time the squad gained possession withing five seconds of applying pressure)||37.5||34.6|
|Def 3rd – (Number of times applying pressure to opposing player who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball, in the defensive 1/3)||155||84|
|Mid 3rd – (Number of times applying pressure to opposing player who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball, in the middle 1/3)||77||37|
|Att 3rd – (Number of times applying pressure to opposing player who is receiving, carrying or releasing the ball, in the attacking 1/3)||8||12|
|Blocks – (Number of times blocking the ball by standing in its path)||45||32|
|Shots Blocked – (Number of times blocking a shot by standing in its path)||25||16|
|Blocked Shot on target – (Number of times blocking a shot that was on target, by standing in its path)||0||1|
|Blocked Pass – (Number of times blocking a pass by standing in its path)||20||16|
Van Dijk wins the comparison, that’s also due to the fact that Liverpool defend as a team but in no means does Maguire fall flat on his back. He’s not quite there yet, but he isn’t as awful as most fans make out to be. It’s too soon for United to completely give up on such a talented player. As the old adage goes that class is permanent while form is temporary certainly stays true here.
Time will tell if Maguire will emerge from this, but time will definitely not be in favor of a man called Ed Woodward, as I believe his days are numbered. Its Ed Woodward and company, who should be facing the heat at the moment. This team can’t operate at a high level without stability at the back. Buying a world-class center back should have been the club’s top priority heading up to Deadline Day. Instead, they continued to spend on other areas. If Maguire doesn’t get back to his top form soon it’s going to cause heads to roll at Manchester United.
Conclusion: United massively depend on Maguire to be their best center back in every match. Neither Eric Bailly or Victor Lindelof have that kind of high-end ability. The success of either player very much depends on Maguire being at his best. On the other hand, it’s also prudent for United to worry if Maguire’s game is starting to decline on a more permanent basis. A player with his limited athleticism can become a liability very quickly if he loses even a step of pace or a modicum of quickness. The coaches need to monitor him mentally & physically, assess & analyze his game, the mistakes that have happened & work on them. Harry Maguire isn’t a bad defender, but he isn’t the best either. By playing to his strengths, he can maximize his output.
As fans of the club, today, its our time to stand with Harry Maguire. He deserves our support, with all that he’s gone through in the summer. But at the same time, he needs to sort himself out, maybe take a break before the Newcastle game & get ready as the games come thick & fast. We need our best Center Back in-form like last season. The objective of this blog is not to criticize Harry Maguire. But to look at his weaknesses & assess if there’s scope for development.
What do you think is wrong with Harry Maguire, reply in the below comments box, would love to hear your opinions.