This season, Harry Maguire has made several high profile mistakes as he struggled to find form in the final months of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s career at Manchester United.
Some of these came during United’s 4-2 loss against Leicester City, their 5-0 loss against Liverpool and their 3-2 hard-fought win against Atalanta in the Champions League. This poor form turned the general opinion of the fanbase against the defender.
Under Ralf Rangnick, there has been a definite upturn in the fortunes of the United defence, with fewer goals being conceded and even some clean sheets being added into the mix. However, United fans still felt like the centre-back partnership needed to be changed up.
And they got their wish in United’s FA Cup fixture against Aston Villa, where due to an injury for Maguire, the team lined up with Victor Lindelof and Raphael Varane, and almost predictably chaos still ensued.
The moment that probably best showed this was when the midfielders pushed high-up to try and regain possession; Aston Villa played a long ball over the top, which Lindelof failed to control. Ollie Watkins then pounced on the loose ball and nearly scored from the resulting shot.
This showed that any United defender can make a mistake, but also that it is the system that is creating the problems by failing to protect them.
Both Scott McTominay and Fred pushed high up the pitch as part of Rangnick’s system to press the opposition. Luke Shaw and Diogo Dalot occupy a higher position to both be part of the press and be ready to be part of the counter; it leaves Lindelof and Varane with at least a third of the pitch to defend on their own.
Both Liverpool and Manchester City negate this from happening by having elite defensive midfielders who are always positioned further back to stop overloads happening if the opposition counters against them. United does not have a Rodri or a Fabinho to find themselves in this position often.
But this doesn’t solve the issue with long balls over the top, and this is where the role of David de Gea comes into question.
At the moment mentioned before, Lindelof was at fault for creating the chance for Watkins, but if De Gea had been more proactive, he would have been able to come out of the box and claim the ball before the striker had the chance to get control of it.
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De Gea has been in great shot-stopping form, but some fans have questioned him in scenarios where he can claim the ball or come out of his box to stop the fires being started rather than put them out reactivity.
Rangnick needs to solve this problem quickly and with a transfer window where he could sign a defensive midfielder and a goalkeeper in reserve who could offer a solution to De Gea’s lack of mobility. A possible solution to one of United’s most significant issues seems clear, and that issue isn’t Maguire.
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