“Now that is how you respond to a difficult period in your career and life,” Gary Lineker tweeted during Manchester United’s 4-1 win against Newcastle United. “You don’t give in. You stand and fight. Pleased for Harry Maguire."
His comment was tweeted moments after Maguire had headed the Red Devils level after a rather poor start to the game. For a player who’s low on confidence and currently all over the place, that goal meant everything.
It’s been a tough start to the season for Maguire. It’s even fair to say the Manchester United captain has endured a torrid time as a human being following the mishap in Greece during the post-season break.
On his return to football, the 27-year-old looked like his head was somewhere else. He was lethargic in United’s 3-1 loss to Crystal Palace on the opening day of the season and was equally sloppy during the humiliating 6-1 defeat to Tottenham two weeks ago.
It wasn’t any different for Maguire at international level, where his careless tackle earned him a red card in England’s UEFA Nations League game against Denmark in midweek. The team would go on to lose the game 1-0.
Indeed, by that time, many had called for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to drop his captain in order to give him time and space to get his head back in the right place. On Saturday, when Maguire’s name popped up on the starting line-up, it sparked skepticism.
Signs of encouragement for Harry Maguire
However, the former Leicester City rearguard put in an assured performance at the back which was capped by a well-taken goal. It may be a bit too early to say he is fully back to his best, but this was a performance worthy of mention.
Aside from his headed goal, Maguire won 86% of his aerial duels, had an 82% pass accuracy and successfully recovered the ball the seven times.
The center-back also made four interceptions, had three successful clearances and recorded one shot on goal.
While these statistics are largely required from centre-backs who ply their trades in top clubs, they offer encouragement in the case of Harry Maguire. His performances in the weeks leading up to the Newcastle game had been well below acceptable standards.
"He is a big man. He is playing for the national team and Manchester United,” teammate Bruno Fernandes said of Maguire in the aftermath of the Newcastle game.
"It is of course difficult for every player being under fire but he did what he had to do on the pitch. He scored. We can push him and he can push us."
Maguire, though, is aware of the task ahead and played down his performance against the Magpies as he looks forward to Man United's upcoming tough fixture pile.
"I wouldn't say we have answered them [the critics]. It's funny, three games into the season and it seems like a big crisis. Won two lost two. There is a long way to go, we have to improve," he told Sky Sports post-match.
"When you play for this club and get beat at home, we ask questions. We work hard in training, it is a great group and we knew we had to bounce back. I felt it would have been really harsh if we came away with just a point. A full deserved win,” he claimed.
After a torrid start to the season, Maguire’s performance against Newcastle was the perfect response to his trolls and critics.
And it could just be the welcome beginning of his return to form, as the club enters a crucial period laced with a tough run of fixtures.
Manchester United had the third best defensive record in the league last season and Harry Maguire provided the foundation for that feat.
He needs to dig down deep and do so again.Published 19 Oct 2020, 14:09 IST