Harry Maguire rides his luck and helps steer Manchester United to vital win at Chelsea
Defender scores second goal at Stamford Bridge, but is lucky not to have been sent-off after kicking out at Rudiger
Harry Maguire, football’s most expensive defender, was not bought to score goals for Manchester United last August, but he was expected to contribute an aerial threat for his new team at the opposite end to where he usually plays.
Maguire, who has enjoyed a solid if unspectacular season so far, had his best game for United in their 2-0 win on Monday which moved them to within three points of fourth placed Chelsea – with Frank Lampard’s side winning only one of their last six games.
United’s form had hardly been better and nine wins from 25 league games was derisory. It was a good time for England international Maguire to score his first league goal for the club, a 66th minute powerful header from a perfect Bruno Fernandes cross. That was only matched in quality by Aaron Wan Bissaka’s cross for United’s first, a header from Antony Martial.
United’s form is so inconsistent that it baffles. Injuries haven’t helped, an inability to beat lower teams too, but they’ve been missing such quality deliveries as they got for their two goals.
Fernandes has started brightly and his ball for Maguire saw the defender too strong for Antonio Rudiger as he charged towards goal. The 26-year-old had correctly predicted to his brother Laurence that he was going to score from a corner. United will need much more from such combinations if they’re to become a footballing power once again.
Maguire, the club captain since Ashley Young left for Inter Milan last month, has played at least four more games than any other United player this season. He’s been at the centre of a settled defensive four with Victor Lindelof as his partner (the pair had helped keep seven clean sheets in their previous nine games), Bissaka to the right and David de Gea behind, but he spent last week resting in the Spanish sunshine and training in a 3-4-1-2 formation as United sought to beat Chelsea for the third successive time away from home.
Maguire needed the break and had looked as jaded as his team, but tactically the idea was to make United more dangerous on the counter attack, to give numerical supremacy in the middle where Chelsea had dominated despite losing 4-0 on the opening day of the season.
A spanner was thrown into the works when Lindelof was declared unfit the day before the game, but Ivorian Eric Bailly stepped up for his first game of the season. He was excellent, as was the other centre-half, Luke Shaw, alongside Maguire.
There was another side to his game, though, since Maguire was fortunate to stay on the field and Chelsea fans were outraged that he did. After a first half touchline altercation with Rudiger, Maguire made a second motion with his right foot towards his opponent.
He smiled apologetically and later said: “I knew I caught him but I felt like he was going to fall on me. My natural reaction was to straighten my leg to try and, if he was to fall on me, to hold him up. Obviously. I’ve got studs on my boots and it probably looks worse than it was on TV. It wasn’t a kick out or anything like that.”
Solskjaer agreed with Maguire’s version and said he gave the incident little thought. The Norwegian really needed to avoid defeat and a nine point gap to Chelsea.
Furious Chelsea, who had two goals correctly disallowed by VAR, didn’t see it that way. “Maguire should get a red and then he scores the second goal,” said Blues manager Lampard. “The game changes off that … it is confusing, though, to say the least, all the different angles still bring a wrong decision.”
“He’s a lucky, lucky boy,” said the former United midfielder Roy Keane of the decision. “Maguire, maybe because it’s his personality, a calm lad, but he definitely kicks out.”
It was that personality which so appealed to United for him to strengthen a defence which had been too changeable in recent seasons.
“He’s very level headed, he’s just as composed off the pitch as on it,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said shortly after he signed. “He’s experienced, he has a big presence around the place, he’s smiling, he has the personality that you like to have around. To have a cool head at the back is important. Defenders who are level headed and not too emotionally affected are great to have for a manager and a team.”
Maguire got lucky, VAR got more criticism but United were worthy winners as they registered a much needed victory and their noisy travelling fans sang for Solskjaer, Maguire and the legendary Busby Babe Harry Gregg, who passed away on Sunday, long into the West London night.
Updated: February 18, 2020 09:11 PM