‘The lack of presence of Harry Maguire in that defence is just obvious for all to see. People will question, “how good really is Harry Maguire?” But you only really see it when he’s not playing. What we’re seeing tonight is a very frantic defence.’
These are the words of former Manchester United captain Gary Neville on Sky Sports after the Red Devils conceded four goals at home to Liverpool last night in the absence of centre back and current captain, Harry Maguire.
The England man has come in for a lot of criticism since his famed £80 million move from Leicester City in 2019 and there has also been controversy after he was charged with aggravated assault and attempting to bribe a police officer while on holiday in Mykonos, Greece, last summer.
But United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stood by his player throughout and would appear to have been vindicated last night, as a defence lacking the injured skipper was torn apart by a decimated Liverpool side.
But is it as simple as that? The opposite opinion was also expressed last night by the intrepid Daily Record reporter and Transfer Podcast host, Duncan Castles.
‘Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United. Six home League defeats, 27 home League goals conceded with one home game still to play. Most home goals conceded for 51 years (with the most expensive defender in the history of the game in his team). ‘Progress’.
Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s Manchester United.
Six home League defeats, 27 home League goals conceded with one home game still to play.
Most home goals conceded for 51 years (with the most expensive defender in the history of the game in his team).
— Duncan Castles (@DuncanCastles) May 13, 2021
It is easy to blame yesterday’s defeat on the skipper’s absence but as Castles suggests, there is an argument that the problems are there whether he is playing or not. Four times this season United conceded three goals at Old Trafford when Maguire was playing. And whilst it was one worse still yesterday, Lindelof and Bailly could at least offer the excuse that they have rarely played together; it takes time for defensive partnerships to gel.
None of United’s current centre backs are of the same calibre as the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Jaap Stam, Steve Bruce and Gary Pallister. But none of them are as bad as they seem to be right now and the danger is that United will splash a lot of cash this summer buying a new partner for Maguire, only to see the same problems occurring again.
Maguire looks a better player in an England shirt, Lindelof looks a better player in a Sweden shirt. Both looked far, far better players at their former clubs.
Goalkeeper Dean Henderson also came in for a lot of criticism after last night’s performance and he, himself, has replaced one of the club’s greatest goalkeepers of all time, David de Gea, after two seasons of error-strewn and disorganised performances interspersed with his old genius.
Henderson, like all these others, looked a far better keeper at Sheffield United than he does at Old Trafford.
And whilst Luke Shaw has excelled this season in the left back role, his understudy, Alex Telles, who was probably FC Porto’s best player for the previous two years and considered one of the world’s best full-backs, has looked shaky and unconvincing when he has come in.
They cannot all become bad players overnight. The problems with United’s defence go deeper than any individual.
The buck surely has to stop with the defensive coaching setup at Old Trafford, or in fact, the lack of one. How can such a prestigious club fail to employ a single specialist defensive coach? United have two goalkeeping coaches, but not one defensive coach. It is horrific and negligent.
Time and time again this season, the Reds have conceded goals from set pieces. These should be the simplest of all situations to prepare a side for and yet the mistakes persist. Two set-piece goals in the first half yesterday were the reason United lost to their old rivals. And yet it continues to go unaddressed.
The fact that so many defenders and keepers look so fragile and inconsistent must indicate there is a problem with the coaching. Forget your Haalands, Sanchos and Varanes. At this moment in time, a top quality defensive coach would be by far the most important signing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer could make this summer.