Player Analysis: Harry Maguire’s performance vs West Ham

Manchester United secured a well-fought victory against West Ham in the Premier League on Saturday afternoon. The win has elevated the Reds to fourth place in the table, and the returning Harry Maguire was excellent throughout the game.

The centre-back has had a difficult season so far, and with his comeback into the starting XI causing much debate around the fanbase, who have watched Victor Lindelof partner Raphael Varane in the last three fixtures, Maguire needed to bring a solid performance.

Not only was the defender impressive in progressing the ball, but he brought defensive assurance that has been missing from his game for periods this campaign. United limited the visiting team to a single shot on target and a measly 0.3 xG, which is the lowest amount that the Reds have restricted an opposition to in the league this season.

Maguire made some crucial defensive actions and also brought some good qualities on the ball, here’s a deeper look into his performance. Statistics in the piece are provided by StatsZone and FBref.

On the ball

United had one of their best performances at sustaining pressure, even though they didn’t actually create too much when they reached the final third. This was due to multiple factors, one of them being the progression and build-up from deep.

Maguire completed seven passes into the final third, no player in the match completed more. The defender registered five progressive passes and also progressively carried the ball 343 yards throughout the game, which is the most progressive distance carried of any player on the pitch; the next highest was Raphael Varane with 211 yards.

Maguire’s carrying

His carries, in particular, were one area that helped United gain terrority and control in the game.

In this particular case in the three images below, Maguire firstly carries the ball after receiving from United’s right, where West Ham were applying pressure. He pushes West Ham’s line backwards with his carry, and this also meant that Jarod Bowen tucked inside to try and help stop central progression. This gave Maguire the opportunity to pass to Alex Telles with extra time to pick out a pass over the top to Cristiano Ronaldo.

Again, here, Maguire carries the ball after United play the ball from right to left. His aggressive carry allows Telles to move into a midfield position, and this means that Bowen cannot follow Telles’ run, as it would give Maguire more space to run into. Bowen is stuck in no-mans-land and Maguire plays a simple pass through the lines to Telles, who pops the ball off to Fred and United have started some simple progression.

This final example shows a similar theme; the ball being played from United’s right to left and Maguire exploiting the open space in front of him. He carries the ball all the way into the final third and releases Marcus Rashford one-on-one with the West Ham full-back. Also, notice how far the visitor’s defensive line drops due to Maguire’s carry, all the way into their own penalty area, making it a more dangerous opportunity for Rashford to receive possession, rather than Maguire passing the ball to him inside his own half.

Passing in build-up

Maguire played the most passes in the match with 68 but was actually somewhat loose in his progressive passes, with a 79% competition rate of his passes. However, a chunk of those misplaced passes was from headers and Stats Zone shows that the defender completed 61 of his 66 attempted non-headed passes.

He was reliable in deeper build-up, and played some simple passes to help United gain territory, like in the example below.

While he also played some great passes through the lines to start attacks for the side. The below two explains, firstly to Bruno Fernandes, and then to Ronaldo, created two good opportunities for United to attack West Ham’s backline.

Maguire also completed six long passes, an attribute that he utilises well often, and it was useful for United, especially in the latter stages of the game as they were pushing for the winning goal.

In this first example below, the defender quickly switches the direction of attack with a long ball to Telles on the left flank. The pass dropped West Ham’s block even deeper and gained United important terrority to try and break down the opposition.

Secondly, in the 91st minute, Maguire launches a brilliant long pass from deep to Rashford, who heads to Ronaldo and it leads to a great opportunity for Anthony Martial. This continued to build the pressure until West Ham eventually folded a minute later.

Maguire’s passing and carrying were excellent throughout the game and helped United control proceedings against a very solid West Ham side. However, it was his defensive side that stood out more.

The defensive side

In an area that Maguire has been rightfully criticised for this season, the defender was much more impressive in his aggressiveness, deep defending and actions in defensive transition.

There were two examples in the early minutes of the game where Maguire showed great defending when the visitors were looking to break forward.

After a turnover in the sixth minute, Bowen is driving towards the box. Maguire holds his position and waits for the winger to turn on the outside to move toward and time his challenge perfectly. Fred’s additional hassling was also crucial as he covered the inside, so Bowen was forced to go on the outside.

Next, seven minutes later the Hammers have another dangerous transition after Michail Antonio got past Varane. Maguire delayed the striker, rather than diving in, and forced him wider. Then. Maguire pounced on his loose touch with a strong tackle to stop the potentially dangerous attack.

Another aspect of Maguire’s that hasn’t been so impressive this season is his box defending. It was a strength of last season though, and he made a vital block and clearance early in the second half of this game.

After having to get back in shape after being down from winning an aerial duel, Maguire moves into space in the backline and orders Diogo Dalot to cover the overlapping run. He positions himself perfectly, steps out against Pablo Fornals and blocks well. He then clears the ball out of the area.

Maguire also showed solid aggression out of possession on multiple occasions, which was complemented by the timing of his actions and his strength.

This first example shows Maguire reading the play well and intercepting the forward pass. He then is strong in the following tackle and his action ultimately leads to a turnover after Scott McTominay tackles the following player.

This time, we see Maguire follow Bowen closely after the long ball. He forces a poor first touch and then uses his strength and game intelligence to get his body in front of the ball so that Bowen is forced to foul the defender.

Finally, we see Maguire following the West Ham winger yet again while the Hammers were attempting to build play. He does not allow an easy reception and forces another poor touch and ultimately this leads to another turnover to benefit United.

On the other hand, Maguire dropped off out of possession into good positions multiple times, particularly when he saw Varane being the aggressor.

In the below example, we see Varane step up to challenge Antonio in the air. Fornals makes the run in behind United’s Frenchman and Antonio is able to win the flick on, but Maguire; after scanning; realises the danger and changes his position so that he can get the ball before the winger despite his lack of pace.

Finally, we saw Maguire strong in the air as usual. This was vital against a team that uses their forward as a hold-up man often. Maguire won five of his eight aerial duels and that was complemented by his aggression off the ball when the ball was on the floor too.

Conclusion

It was a very good defensive performance from Manchester United’s captain, and while there has been so much scrutiny against him and his performances, this was a great building block towards more impressive performances, and I don’t think it was a coincidence that it occurred.

While Maguire’s performances have been poor, he has been in an abysmal defensive set-up for most of the season so far and was rushed back from injury earlier in the campaign. This time around, Rangnick eased the captain back into the side and has implemented steps towards a more solid defensive set-up; in a block and in transition.

This is great news for Maguire, who *news flash* isn’t great at defending large spaces for large periods of games. But, in a more defensively solid set-up, he will hopefully be able to show off his abilities in possession more and more as United are able to control more games.

This was a solid performance from Maguire, but he will certainly need to build on it because Victor Lindelof has shown that he is also a very good defender and will challenge for places at Old Trafford if either of the two in front of him aren’t pulling their weight.

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