Harry Maguire is back to his best, and maybe even better
Before the pandemic, it seemed like a move that made sense. Harry Maguire was the central defender at the heart of Leicester City and England's back line, a versatile player who could bring the ball forward but was also deadly in the air. Manchester United paid a reported £80m for the services of the then 26-year-old, who was just entering what would likely be his peak years. The fee made him the world's most expensive defender, but the Red Devils had a right to expect a lot from him. And now, they're getting it.
Let's take a look at Maguire's stats from the past few seasons, all at a Premier League standard:
After seeing his attacking output drop in his first season at Old Trafford, Maguire has ascended back to the heights he enjoyed for Leicester in 2018-19. His defending quality and quantity have both risen to their highest levels yet in our database. He's still outstanding in the air in all situations and in ground duels on the ball. His tackling is average, but he's an excellent finisher, particularly with his head. It's all the more impressive because only two Premier League footballers – Conor Coady and Rui Patricio – have played more minutes in domestic and European leagues since the beginning of last season. Maguire is currently close to 8,000' since the 2019-20 term began.
It's worth noting that Maguire's ball retention is down a bit this season, albeit still very good for the Premier League. This is in part because he's been taking more risks, in line with the slightly more direct style of play that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has instituted. Here's a look at how the locations of Maguire's touches have changed between his last season at Leicester and the current campaign:
In 2018-19, Maguire tended to use shorter passes when he crossed midfield. Now his passes are more incisive – which carries risk – and his touches are also more concentrated in the left channel rather than on the flank. He's getting a bit further forward, too, even as he spends more time on the ball in his own penalty area. It's as though someone just found a dial and turned up the volume.
Intriguingingly, despite these small but telling changes in positioning, Maguire is closer now to the style of play he had at Leicester than he was last season. Here's a comparison across all three seasons:
The mappings for 2018-19 and 2020-21 are almost identical. This suggests that after a period of adjustment – for Maguire and possibly for Solskjaer as well – the big LCB is back to being the player that Manchester United wanted in the first place. And he's clearly thriving in the role, involved in 46% of Manchester United's goals while on the pitch in the Premier League, a huge share for a central defender. And Maguire is asserting his threat on dead balls as well. Here's his shot map from this season:
Maguire only scored once during the entirety of last season, and this season he's got two from dead balls already – both trademark headers across the GK and into the far corner.
Life is good for the captain, and why not? There can't be many LCBs in the world who have posted such high numbers across all our metrics for such a long spell of games. Indeed, if we search for players with 80+ ratings over 950'+ for attacking output and defending quality, as well as 60+ for defending quantity and ball retention, we only find one besides Maguire who isn't named Virgil van Dijk or Sergio Ramos:
So here's a postscript. Berat Djimsiti has been part of the incredible story at Atalanta since 2016, with spells on loan at Avellino and Benevento. He's the same age as Maguire, and if you haven't heard of him, maybe you should have:
A tip of the hat to Gian Piero Gasperini and Giovanni Sartori!
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[Photo: Антон Зайцев]