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Harry Maguire return offers Manchester United concern as much as comfort

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Manchester United's Harry Maguire (left) and West Ham United's Tomas Soucek battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday January 22, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should

Manchester United's Harry Maguire (left) and West Ham United's Tomas Soucek battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday January 22, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should

Harry Maguire challenges West Ham’s Tomas Soucek

Harry Maguire challenges West Ham’s Tomas Soucek

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Manchester United's Harry Maguire (left) and West Ham United's Tomas Soucek battle for the ball during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester. Picture date: Saturday January 22, 2022. PA Photo. See PA story SOCCER Man Utd. Photo credit should

It has been hard to watch Harry Maguire this season and not instantly think of Roy Keane’s face contorting with anger and disbelief whenever the Manchester United captain has lumbered his way into more trouble.

There were certainly one or two uncomfortable moments for Maguire in the win over West Ham on Saturday that might have left Keane quietly simmering with indignation but, in the main, this was – Ralf Rangnick hopes – a small step in the right direction for a player who has desperately needed to hit the reset button.

“It was a very good performance from both centre-backs [Maguire and Raphael Varane], defensively almost without any mistakes on the ball,” Rangnick said. “Some long balls in the first half, [there were] two or three of them that they would not necessarily have played but, defensively, he [Maguire] was very present and he was vocal on the pitch. He played like a captain should play.”

Maguire, of course, has fallen far below the requirements expected of a United captain this season in just about every regard – performance, confidence, concentration, organisation, authority, leadership – and the banner paraded before kick-off at some games over the past couple of months has offered a reminder of how high that bar is set.

The faces of Keane, Bryan Robson and Eric Cantona emblazoned on a flag bearing the word “Standards” needs no explanation, and there are plenty of seasoned United observers not prone to the knee-jerk extremes of the social media brigade who remain very uneasy with the idea of Maguire as captain.

A few weeks out of the team through injury appear to have done him some good, though, mentally as much as anything. With Victor Lindelof absent following a midweek break-in at his home, Maguire was restored to the starting XI and equipped himself with more assurance.

It was not a faultless performance by any means but pre-match disquiet about how Maguire might cope with the fast, physical, hard-running Michail Antonio were largely allayed and, when he tired, David Moyes did not have another striker to introduce to ask fresh questions.

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Maguire produced several good rangy passes into feet or space on the left from an inside position. He has also been making far fewer interceptions and ball recoveries, and winning fewer aerial challenges than at any point in his top-flight career, but there was improvement in all of those disciplines against West Ham.

A fourth clean sheet in 10 matches under Rangnick also provided the foundations from which Marcus Rashford was able to claim a last-gasp winner that boosted United’s top-four prospects.

It is when Maguire ends up in a race, has to make up ground or turn quickly that he looks most vulnerable, and his movement has felt particularly encumbered.

One such moment arrived in the 55th minute, when he dragged his frame across to the touchline to try to stifle Jarrod Bowen but succeeded only in clattering through the forward with an unsightly late challenge for which he was booked.

Twelve minutes later, there was another foul on Bowen, this time centrally, 25 yards out, and Maguire was suddenly on his final warning.

Maguire has received 21 yellow cards and one red for United since the start of last season, a disconcerting record when compared with the leading centre-halves at the Premier League’s other biggest clubs. Virgil van Dijk has been booked just 10 times since joining Liverpool in January 2018.

Thiago Silva has picked up only six yellow cards and one red for Chelsea since the start of last season, and Ruben Dias 12 bookings for Manchester City and Benfica over the same period. John Stones has only three yellow cards and one red in a little over five seasons at City.

It does little to dispel this notion of Maguire being caught out by quick forwards much more often than his counterparts. It is an area of his game that needs addressing but Rangnick will hope Saturday pointed to some green shoots of recovery for his captain.



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