After listening to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talk about the importance of Harry Maguire to Manchester United it’s a surprise the captain has only been wearing a protective boot this week, rather than a layer of cotton wool instead.
If anybody didn’t know it already, successive Old Trafford defeats to Leicester City and Liverpool have made it clear just how valuable Maguire is to this side.
A run of 72 consecutive starts in the Premier League had shown the faith Solskjaer had in his captain, but the fans haven’t always warmed to Maguire, who has had to cope with the pressure of being the world’s most expensive defender while settling into a new level of scrutiny and pressure.
But as this season has progressed Maguire has stepped up to the challenge and any doubts that he’s the glue holding this defence together were dispelled in the space of little more than 48 hours at Old Trafford.
United shipped six goals in 180 minutes against Leicester and Liverpool, suffering back-to-back Premier League defeats for the first time since January 2020. Without the authoritative presence of Maguire the centre-backs looked uncertain and the partnership of Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly didn’t convince on Thursday night.
A week ago if United supporters had drawn up a list of players this team could least afford to be without heading into a first final in three years Maguire would have probably been mid-table.. Lindelof has had a good 2021 and Bailly has generally impressed as well this season, getting more chances than he did last year.
But this week has revealed that both benefit from playing next to Maguire, rather than the other way around. Now it feels like Maguire is probably in the top three of players United can least afford to lose, behind Bruno Fernandes and, at the moment, Edinson Cavani.
Maguire was keeping his injured ankle well protected while watching from the stands on Tuesday and Thursday and Solskjaer has revealed the extreme caution United are taking with the injury, with all eyes on a path of recovery that ends with the captain leading his team out in Gdansk on Wednesday, May 26.
“He’s making progress, but we’re consciously taking the route of not testing him out too early or too quickly. We don’t want to aggravate something. Harry wants this so much, so he doesn’t want to take any risks either,” Solskjaer explained.
And there’s clearly no necessity for Maguire to feature against either Fulham or Wolves this week to prove his fitness to face Villarreal.
Solskjaer knows United’s chances of winning the Europa League are improved considerably with Maguire in the team. He probably knew that a week ago, but now most United supporters are convinced of it too.
So rather than look to plan without Maguire, Solskjaer will give him as long as possible to show he is ready for action on May 26.
“I will give him as long as it takes because he has shown his importance. We’ve known it all along but maybe some people open their eyes more when he’s not playing,” said Solskjaer.
“I certainly felt I became a very good player when I was injured. People suddenly realised what I could do as a sub or what I was as a player.