This article is part of Football FanCast’s The Chalkboard series, which provides a tactical insight into teams, players, managers, potential signings and more…
So Manchester United may finally have the long-term answer to the question of who will fill the shoes of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Harry Maguire’s world-record move for a defender has certainly given the Red Devils a much-needed imposing figure at the back, but there are question marks over just how well he could adapt to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s style of play.
The United boss has looked to implement a high-intensity approach and pressing from the front – something slightly unfamiliar to Maguire from his days at Hull and Leicester. The 6 foot 4 powerhouse has long been used to playing in sides that defend deep and counter-attack. At Old Trafford, Maguire will be expected to play a huge part in leading the club’s back-line high up the pitch to dominate possession.
But, switching to a back-three could bring rich rewards for Maguire and United. If utilised as the middle centre-back, the 26-year-old could bring the ball out of defence with typical composure, and crucially know that were he to make a mistake, he would have two covering players behind him to deal with the situation. Indeed, one of the major risks of Solskjaer’s new approach will be the side being susceptible to balls in behind.
For all of Maguire’s qualities, pace has never been one of his strong points. But in having a pairing of Victor Lindelof and Axel Tuanzebe alongside him for example, United would have greater security.
The Red Devils were incredibly porous in defence last season, letting in a disappointing 54 goals in the Premier League alone. Opting to go for a three-man defence with Maguire at the heart of it however, could also bring about greater rewards going forward.
Last season, the former Leicester centre-back averaged an impressive 56.4 passes per game, but also managed 6.2 long balls per game. In a back-three, Maguire could step out from the back and play those laser-like passes into the side’s wingers and help stretch the play. It would allow United to introduce a different dimension to their game and ensure opposition teams always try and stay close to the side’s wide-men, thus leaving more space for the Red Devils in central positions.
So whilst Maguire’s signing should automatically give United a much-needed boost in central defence, it could well take a tactical tweak for the Red Devils to truly bring the best out of the English powerhouse.