A run in the side was facilitated first by the absence of Lisandro Martinez, Ten Hag’s chosen upgrade on Maguire, and then all of United’s left-backs, meaning Victor Lindelof was redeployed on the flank. Yet Lindelof began on the bench against Copenhagen, Maguire in the role Ten Hag has long been reluctant to grant him: as a left-sided centre-back.
The Dutchman has an innate preference for left-footers there. But he also wants centre-backs who operate higher up the pitch. Maguire was not a natural fit: belatedly, though, he is becoming Ten Hag’s type of defender. “I think so,” he said. “He’s playing much more proactive in possession, stepping in, passing vertical, defending also on the front foot, also stepping in, defending forward, very confident in the duels. I think he’s dominating in the right moment, putting the question, dominating his opponents. You see he gets rewarded – it’s a very good skill from him, his heading, and a very good finish.”
It was a reward for more than just set-piece expertise. It was Maguire’s prize for obstinacy, for staying when there were reasons to go: that United were reluctant to pay him off may have influenced his decision but he maintained he could win his place back. Ten Hag, too, never forced him out, stripping him of the armband but insisting he remained a valuable squad player. The manager’s position has been nuanced, the defender’s defiant.
“This is maybe the most scrutinised club in the world and when you are not quite on your game it gets picked up, it gets analysed,” Maguire reflected. He had a shocking 2021-22 campaign, a bad start to last season. Neither escaped scrutiny. Since then, however, he reflected: “And I am really proud and pleased over the way I have acted over the last six to 12 months.”
For now, he has confounded expectations. Stiffer examinations may await, starting with Erling Haaland on Sunday. If he is still in the side, the last five weeks of the year bring Galatasaray, Newcastle, Chelsea, Bayern, Liverpool, West Ham and Villa. They will be the tests if he ranks as a top-class centre-back.
For now, though, Maguire is the emblem of this United, labouring to victory with goals from some of their lesser lights. Their last five strikes have come from either McTominay, Diogo Dalot or Maguire. And for the man who has been mocked and maligned, dropped and abused, it was a rare high of late for Maguire. And, whatever his win percentage, there have not been many occasions in the last two years when he was celebrated like this.
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