It’s a footballing mantra that players become better when they’re not playing and while that’s not usually something an £80million centre-back wants to rely on, Harry Maguire might find his own popularity rockets in Manchester over the next week or two.
Maguire could get the rest that he has seemed in need of against Newcastle tonight, with an injury making him a doubt for the game at St James’ Park. The former Leicester man travelled to Tyneside with his teammates on Friday but it remains to be seen whether he is thrown under the spotlight again.
It’s difficult to argue against the idea that the United captain has looked in need of a break recently. His form has deserted him and while only he knows how much his arrest and detention in Mykonos, with a new trial still hanging over the case, is weighing him down, Maguire would only be human if it was playing on his mind. His world was turned upside down in the space of a few hours.
As Maguire trudged off at Wembley on Wednesday night it was hard not to feel some sympathy for him. While social media trolls might like to portray the multi-million-pound bank balances as a solution to real-world problems, that simply isn’t the case. Maguire can suffer like the rest of us when his world begins to unravel.
So maybe a break will do him good. Some of his defending against Tottenham two weeks ago suggested his head was frazzled and a spell of rest and recuperation might do him some good.
But the idea of him being voluntarily left out by Solskjaer for a week or two ignored the fact United don’t have alternatives at the back.
You might think a squad with seven senior central defenders could rotate them in and out at will, but that’s not the case. Solskjaer has found it difficult enough to find a consistent partner for Maguire, never mind replace the captain himself.
A pairing of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly is unlikely to fill anyone with much confidence and while the £60million duo might strike up an easy alliance, it’s more likely that Maguire will be missed more than anyone expects during his break, however long that might be.
There’s no denying Maguire’s form has plummeted for United and he has made mistakes, rarely looking as assured as you would expect of an £80million centre back, but he’s suffering from being the lynchpin of a defence that just isn’t working. His partnership with Lindelof has rarely looked natural and Bailly’s return to the side created panic, rather than solving some of the more structural problems.
So far this season that defence has also been left exposed by United’s midfield, which has been far too open and has allowed Crystal Palace, Brighton and Tottenham to regularly attack the heart of the defence.
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Find a more assured, more naturally defensive partner for Maguire, and find the key to locking that midfield and Maguire might look like the best centre back at the club, because there can be little doubt that’s what he is, on his day.
Unfortunately, it hasn’t been his day for a while and a spell out of the tumultuous cycle United are going through at the moment might help. As captain Maguire will be desperate to play his part, especially after the embarrassing team performance against Tottenham, but within a week or two he might find his stock rising once again, simply by not being there.