How Harry Maguire brought a new dimension to Manchester United’s attack
Since Harry Maguire’s move to Old Trafford last August, the England international has become club captain under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and one of the most senior figures in the squad.
Manchester United had to eventually pay a sizeable £80million for the former Leicester City centre-back, but his progression means that the money paid for him might well be worth it in the near future.
His role at the heart of the United defence has led to Solskjaer’s side boasting the third-best defensive record in the league with just 30 goals conceded in 29 matches this season.
Maguire’s influence as a leader both in terms of communication and his own performances has provided United with a stable platform for future success.
Despite Maguire’s role in developing an impressive defence, a lack of creative threat has been the source of much frustration for the Reds so far this season.
Premier League defeats to the likes of Burnley and Crystal Palace, two predominantly defensive sides, has seen them struggle for creative ideas in attack. The introduction of Bruno Fernandes earlier this year has done much to change that in recent months in terms of a better balance in the side and more attacking incision.
However, the lack of quality in progressing the ball to the final third for most of this season has seen Maguire emerge as somewhat of a crucial piece of the attacking jigsaw.
The fact that Maguire has become such an integral part of progressing the ball forward for United shows how the side has struggled to provide a similar threat from midfield.
Maguire tops the rankings for ball progression per carry out of all defenders (including centre-backs and full-backs) with an average of 4.719 yards per carry so far this season. As shown in the graph below, the 27-year-old ranks higher than the likes of Fernandinho and Adam Webster who are similarly known for being adept at progressing with the ball at their feet.
While Maguire is the most progressive in distance per carry, he ranks much lower in terms of the number of carries per touch. Joe Gomez, Nicolas Otamendi and Fikayo Tomori top the charts for the rate at which they carry possession per touch, but register far less distance per carry than Maguire.
What this tells us about the United defender in terms of ball progression is that he carries the ball far less than the aforementioned players, but when he does it is with intent and further up the pitch.
Such a tendency to carry the ball further forward is something that United would have been well aware of when they signed Maguire.
He had shown similarly impressive traits with Leicester and also on the international stage with England, but the way this develops now that Fernandes has taken a more central role will be interesting.
Earlier difficulty in breaking down defensive sides might well have contributed to Maguire taking risks to progress the ball further than should be needed and, therefore, led to an unbalanced attacking shape.
However, the influence of Fernandes in being able to provide more attacking threat from midfield has led to a much more balanced setup in attacking and could, therefore, allow Maguire to use ball progressing strengths when only absolutely necessary.
The fact that the United captain is the most progressive ball carrying defender in the league shows his strengths whilst also highlighting some of the issues experienced by Solskjaer’s side this season.
Regardless, the emergence of a more balanced side going forward will enable Maguire to maintain a strong defensive unit as well as use his strengths in possession in a more risk-averse manner.