CHRIS WHEELER: Harry Maguire’s improved display in Manchester United’s win over Brighton was a step in the right direction but the struggling defender still looked worryingly immobile at Old Trafford
It says much about Harry Maguire’s form this season that Ralf Rangnick has only been interim manager for 14 games and he has already had to give the Manchester United skipper two public votes of confidence.
‘He is our captain and I don’t see any reason to change that,’ Rangnick reiterated on Monday while admitting that Maguire had some ‘weaker moments’ in the previous two games against Southampton and Burnley.
Those moments have not been lost on Maguire’s critics who continue to question the wisdom of paying Leicester £80million for the England centre-back in 2019 and then handing him the armband.
Harry Maguire put in an improved display in Manchester United’s 2-0 win over Brighton
Ralf Rangnick has faced calls to drop the struggling centre-back after some woeful form
Even more so when United’s two biggest rivals, Liverpool and Manchester City, have got it so right with Virgil van Dijk and Ruben Dias.
In Maguire’s defence, he didn’t set the transfer fee or ask for the captaincy. But both command a level of expectation, and it’s fair to say the Yorkshireman has often come up short.
When fans in the Stretford End held up a banner with the words ‘Standards’ and the images of former United captains Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona before the FA Cup tie against Aston Villa in January, it was hard not to draw comparisons with the modern-day United and their less charismatic leader.
That was one of three games Maguire missed due to an injury he picked up against Burnley in late December as Victor Lindelof established a promising partnership with Raphael Varane.
The Yorkshireman has often come up short amid question marks over his £80million price tag
Indeed, had Lindelof not taken his family back to Sweden after their house was burgled, Maguire could have been waiting significantly longer to regain his place.
An impressive return against West Ham was followed by those two less encouraging performances against Southampton and Burnley.
On Monday night, it was Varane’s turn to drop out after the Frenchman fell ill shortly before kick-off and Lindelof replaced him on the team sheet.
To be fair to Maguire, this was one of his better displays in United’s 2-0 win as he marked Brighton’s in-form striker Neal Maupay out of the game for the most part. He was still caught rooted to the spot, though, when Maupay’s replacement Danny Welbeck headed narrowly wide from Tariq Lamptey’s cross in the 90th minute.
His performance against the Seagulls was encouraging – though he still look immobile at times
And there were occasions though when Brighton cut through the United defence in the first half to threaten through Jakub Moder and Yves Bissouma that the 28-year-old looked worryingly immobile.
Maguire is not the most nimble of defenders or as athletic as, say, Van Dijk who also stands 6ft 4in. He looks uncomfortable when faced with genuine pace, and that is not an easy flaw to hide at the highest level.
Still, this was a step in the right direction for Maguire after what has been a difficult month so far. The challenge now is to make it the norm rather than the exception.