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Would Toby Alderweireld or Harry Maguire be a better signing for Manchester United?

ANALYST
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Chelsea v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Final
Jose Mourinho

Manchester United’s search for their defensive leader has taken them towards many attainable and unattainable targets. Ranging from Sergio Ramos to Raphael Varane and Jerome Boateng, United have targeted multiple defenders since the departure of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand.

Their hunt for a leader in the heart of defence looks elusive as it has taken them five summer transfer windows, and they are still searching for one. Two signings, Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, in the last two summer transfer windows have still not convinced Jose Mourinho to make them the core of United defence. The unsteady defending by most of the defenders is taking its toll on United’s search for their first Premier League title since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. This summer, though, United are gathering pace to sign at least one defender to lead their defence.

In the past few weeks, Leicester City’s Harry Maguire and Spurs’ Toby Alderweireld have emerged as possible defensive targets for United. While both the targets are attainable for United, it is even making a team as big as United to think twice about pursuing them because of their inflated transfer fees.

The London club’s stubbornness is the only thing standing between Alderweireld’s potential arrival. On the other hand, Leicester are demanding extortionate money for their prized defender because of Maguire’s excellent showing at the recently concluded World Cup. And given Mourinho’s long standing distrust of his current defenders, United definitely looks like signing one of those two.

Playing style

While ball playing centre-backs have become the norm in the recent years, the old school art of defending is gradually diminishing among the new breed of defenders in the Premier League. And Toby Alderweireld is quite possibly one of the very best ball playing defenders in the Premier League. His calm and composed game play has been praised by many critics and fans alike.

The Belgian reads the game excellently and makes use of his passing qualities as a creative element for the attackers, which is a key aspect to Mourinho’s style of play. The Belgian’s passing accuracy was 86% in the league last season, as compared to Maguire’s 78%. While Maguire comes second to Alderweireld in this regard, he is possibly better than most of United’s current defenders.


Belgium v France: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Toby Alderweireld during the World Cup in Russia

Although both have a very good aerial presence, it was the English defender who won more aerial duels than any other defender in Russia during the World Cup. Maguire is also a very potent player in front of goal. He managed to produce three goals and five assists last season, in contrast to Alderweireld, who scored none and created only one goal. Mourinho is very much detailed in this regard as he will want his defenders to have an all round importance on the game.

Defending

The most important aspect of any defender is to be able to defend well, especially those playing for Mourinho. And in this respect, both Alderweireld and Maguire excel. Alderweireld was a key part of the Tottenham defence that conceded the fewest goals in both 2015/16 – with him making the most defensive contributions per game (10) of all Spurs player – and 2016/17. He was also a member of the Atletico Madrid side with the best defensive record in the La Liga in 2013/14 season.


England v Croatia: Semi Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia
Harry Maguire with the ball during the World Cup in Russia

On the other hand, Maguire made the second most tackles (63), third most interceptions (48) and the most clearances (176) for Leicester City last season. He went on to win the club’s Player of the Season award because of his exploits. Similarly, Alderweireld was also recognised for the same award for his club during the year 2016. This proves that Mourinho is targeting two established central defenders of the Premier League and it is very likely that United will get the desired defender for next season.

Who Should Manchester United sign?

Tactically, both Alderweireld and Maguire are two of the best defenders in the league, and both meet United’s desire for a leader in the heart of their defence. Maguire will surely complement United’s existing game play, and will bring balance to the back-line when paired with Eric Bailly. On the other hand, in Alderweireld United will receive a firm passer who is eager to create during the match through his tendency for both short and long balls.

The hype that the England defender has received from the World Cup made him an easy target since United were eyeing a defender during this summer transfer window. The better option for Mourinho will be to opt for the Belgian. The amount of experience and reliability for a huge amount of money makes Alderweireld a better signing than Maguire. The fact that Maguire is younger and inexperienced than the Belgian could also play into Mourinho’s mind in choosing a defender. A one time inductee in the PFA team of the year in 2016 and a title winner with Ajax and Atletico, Aldeiweireld has the winning mentality that Jose Mourinho demands from his players.

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ANALYST
An avid Premier League fan. A footballer for life and a football fan by heart. And a big Indian football lover too.
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