Today is Harry Maguire’s birthday, but the Manchester United captain’s celebrations will be far from lavish. On Sunday afternoon, United will face Manchester City in the Manchester derby, and Maguire will go through his usual match preparation.
Maguire’s birthday wish might be to begin at the Etihad Stadium. After an excellent European Championship, the centre-back has had a difficult season, and his credentials to captain the club have been called into question.
He was dropped to the bench against Watford last weekend and isn’t sure if he’ll be able to reclaim his starting spot. In recent weeks, Victor Lindelof has outperformed him.
On several occasions this campaign, Maguire has taken one step forward and two steps back. There have been some performances that suggested a return to form, but they haven’t been replicated; consistency is difficult to come by in the midst of a confidence crisis. Maguire’s strong and resilient performance at Elland Road seemed to mark a turning point in his season, but he was also to blame for Atletico Madrid’s early goal.
Maguire has claimed that he is unconcerned about criticism, but his actions contradict his words. After scoring for England in November, Maguire covered his ears with his hands, and United had just lost 2-0 to City the night before.
It was strange. When Maguire returned from international duty, United lost 4-1 to Watford, and the centre-back was sent off, things looked even worse.
Maguire may not be able to control those around him, but his family has a history of responding to criticism on social media. Maguire has been under a lot of pressure this season, and he’s not sure if he’ll be able to handle it. It’s impossible to ignore the recent dressing room ruckus, and Maguire appears to be battling for his place at the club for the first time since his arrival.
United spent £80 million on Maguire, and it’s a slap in the face of the club’s recruitment program that a new centre-back to play alongside Raphael Varane might be on the cards this summer. If United replaces Maguire, he will be known as a disastrous signing.
Ralf Rangnick has publicly expressed his support for the 29-year-old, which was expected, but the interim manager’s team selections have been eye-opening. Last Saturday, Maguire was again on the bench as United drew 0-0 with Watford.
Rangnick might start Lindelof alongside Varane at the heart of United’s defense in the Manchester derby, since the Swede hasn’t put a foot wrong in the last month. Although the English have a fascination with the captain’s armband, dismissing your club captain for a game of this magnitude — for the second time — would be a scathing judgment on Maguire.
If your £80 million club captain isn’t considered an automatic starter against your rivals in one of the most important games of the season, something is seriously wrong. It would also be a hint that change is on the way, something United desperately needs.
Varane appeared to be the missing piece in United’s defense in order for the club to mount a genuine Premier League title push, but Maguire’s inadequacies have been revealed this season (albeit he hasn’t been helped by the incoherent midfield in front of him).
Nonetheless, the player retains the ability to sway United’s transfer market decisions. Maguire was unquestionably world class at Euro 2020, and United will need him to continue in same vein for the rest of the season.
It’s difficult not to feel sorry for Maguire. This season has put him under unprecedented strain in his career, but that’s what being captain of Manchester United involves. Maguire handled the criticism admirably at Leeds, and he’ll need to do the same against City if he gets the chance, but if he’s on the bench again, the writing might be on the wall.
When Rangnick announces his team at 3.30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, Maguire may find out where he stands.