Harry Maguire has produced some superb performances in an England shirt over the last few years but has struggled to even start for Manchester United this season.
Despite his poor form at club level, there was never any doubt in Gareth Southgate’s mind as to whether he should be in the England squad for the recent World Cup or even in the starting line-up.
He appeared more times in the World Cup for England than he has in the 22/23 season so far for United, five times for England and only four times for the Reds.
Southgate’s faith in the defender was rewarded too as he had a few strong performances, particularly in the group stages.
In an article published by The Athletic a few days ago, Liam Tharme analysed his performances and gave his opinion on how United could get similar performances out of the 29 year old.
The journalist highlights four changes that Ten Hag could make to boost Maguire’s performances.
Tharme’s main point is the necessity for a stable partnership. He refers to the glory days, highlighting how Ferdinand and Vidic were one of the greatest centre back pairings in Premiership history, their styles complementing each other perfectly.
He says of Maguire, “Maguire has played alongside John Stones at three major tournaments, albeit in a mix of defensive structures.”
He continues, “In 16 games with the duo, England have 10 wins, three draws and three losses, underpinned by a defence conceding fewer than a goal per game and keeping clean sheets in almost half the matches.”
The pair knows themselves how their relationship improves the team’s performance. Prior to the World Cup, Stones said, “We’ve had so many games together, we’ve made a bond and a partnership together. We know what the other person is going to do and how we work best together. It clicks.”
Tharme takes his analysis deeper, “As a bigger physical presence, Maguire steps in more but is also the primary box defender — he had more clearances (18 versus seven), tackles (seven against two), and double the number of aerial duels (20 against 10) of Stones at the World Cup.”
Ten Hag himself commented on the difference in the player stating, “He has, for England, good games almost all the time. He had a period in Manchester where he performed badly.”
Maguire’s weakness lies in his athleticism, something which Ten Hag’s style of play tests with its high defensive line.
Tharme clarifies, “every centre-back has limitations and therefore pairing players with strengths that mitigate the other’s weaknesses are key.”
In a previous article, the publication’s Carl Anka highlighted his performance in the 19/20 and 20/21 season in which he built up a partnership with Victor Lindelof.
At the time, Maguire commented on the success they were having, “When you form partnerships it takes time, I’m learning his (Lindelof’s) game and he’s learning mine and I think we’re getting better.”
They started 79% of games together, which resulted in 33 wins, 21 draws and only eight losses with fewer than a goal conceded per game.
But Tharme thinks it unlikely that Ten Hag will change his system to accommodate that partnership. He religiously plays a back four and prefers Martinez in that left centre-back position.
However, that’s the position Maguire excels at for his country and Tharme once again highlights the pros of having a right-footed Maguire in this left-centre back role.
“Playing off the left, Maguire has more opportunity to dribble and protect the ball with his shoulder, but also play switches to either wing.”
This would be ideal for both Rashford and Sancho for United and he has proven the skill by servicing Sterling and Saka for England in this past tournament.
The Athletic goes on to argue that losing Ronaldo may have improved Maguire’s performances and boosted his chances.
“Ronaldo’s lack of pressing meant United had to defend more and closer to their own goal.”
Tharme gives the example of Norwich’s first goal against the Reds back in May. Though the goal was created on Maguire’s side it came from the six men in front of him, including Ronaldo, failing to block passing lanes.
But the termination of Ronaldo’s contract might not be the only thing Maguire needs to break into Ten Hag’s starting line up again.
David de Gea is not much of a sweeper-keeper, meaning there is more pressure on his defenders.
Statistics from FBref show he ranks inside the bottom quarter of top five league European goalkeepers over the past 365 days for defensive actions outside of the box per 90 minutes (0.77) compared to England keeper Pickford’s 1.39.
However it is unlikely Ten Hag will drop De Gea in order to better accommodate his club captain.
Finally, Maguire is notorious for the threat he poses from set pieces. Since the start of 2021, he has scored more goals for England than United.
It was widely noted that in January this year United failed to score from 117 corners. Maguire prefers outswingers because they hang in the air longer, curling towards him and allowing him to meet it with a powerful header.
It has been a major feature to England’s success in recent tournaments under Southgate but the majority of United’s corners are not outswingers.
Tharme makes a good argument as to why Ten Hag can’t get the performances out of his captain that Southgate can, but without changing his style of play and desired formation, he may never get the best out of his defender.
However, with this analysis it is easy to see why he appears in Southgate’s squad despite his poor club form.