Manchester United are ignoring a major attacking weapon.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men may have beaten Chelsea 4-0 on the opening weekend of the season but that was a game that was out of keeping with the statistics and, really, a freak.
BBC Sport reported that United had 11 shots on goal at Old Trafford. Chelsea had 18.
They followed that up, though, with a dour 1-1 draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers and, in the second half, Solskjaer’s men were outplayed.
A Ruben Neves stunner from range earned Nuno Espirito Santo’s impressive side a point but it felt on the day as though United had missed a trick.
The following weekend, Crystal Palace delivered the type of reality-checking sucker punch that serves to expose fragility and deeply-entrenched problems.
One of those problems lies within the defensive unit but the decision to lavish a world-record fee on Harry Maguire will not resolve that overnight.
But is there another characteristic to Maguire – a centre-back who is a genuine menace at corners and free-kicks – that could bolster United’s proficiency at both ends of the pitch?
In his career, he has scored 13 headed goals compared to five with his feet. Of the latter, he netted one in injury time against United after ghosting past the defence, and also earned Leicester City a point against Liverpool at Anfield last season with a sweeping volley into the bottom corner.
This is a defender by trade, of course, but he is a talent and a multifaceted one at that. At Leicester in 2018/19, per WhoScored, Maguire averaged one shot on goal per game, as well as 0.5 dribbles, 0.4 key passes, a pass completion rate of 85.6% and 1.2 interceptions.
It should be clear to see that Maguire can make an impact in the final third of the pitch as well as at the back and not solely at corners. United should still try to improve those as well.
Of course, Sheffield United’s promotion to the Premier League has placed central defenders under a microscope. Chris Wilder’s side utilise overlapping centre-backs, bringing the defenders forward in a bid to create overloads in the final third.
It works for them because they have defenders with the attributes to make it work and also adds an element of surprise; most backlines don’t expect to suddenly be marking the centre-half instead of the centre-forward.
One feels that this could be expanded to bigger clubs with better players, too, and Maguire is ideally suited.
He can bring the ball out of defence and has done it repeatedly for both Leicester and England; his rampaging runs were a highlight of the Three Lions’ run to the semi-finals of the 2018 World Cup.
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An excellent distributor of the ball, he is quick, too, and has the ability to slip into midfield and then further forward as United look to break down opposition backlines.
They have a functional midfielder in Scott McTominay who could drop into defence to cover him, and it could add an extra dimension to their forward play.
This isn’t to say that Martial should be slipping Maguire into a one-on-one situation, but the latter’s mere presence in the final third can bring the Frenchman into play and also confuse the opposition by being a spare man in the box.
It is a difficult tactic to master and Solskjaer would have to work at it on the training ground but one feels that Maguire could play a major role in transforming United’s attack this season.
It is an idea that the Norwegian should be exploring; it could make all the difference as United look to produce more performances of the Chelsea ilk, as opposed to the Wolves or Palace ilk.