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The controversial case of Harry Maguire: how does he compare to his fellow centre-backs?

The Manchester United defender has split opinion and constantly made headlines since making his £80 million move back in 2019

1:51pm on Friday 11th December 2020
Abel Meszaros

Harry Maguire made headline news when he became the world's most expensive defender in the summer of 2019, leaving Leicester City for Manchester United in an £80 million deal.

The move came just 12 months after the former Hull City centre-back had played a pivotal part in Gareth Southgate's England side reaching the World Cup semi-finals for the first time since 1990.

In an instant, Maguire changed from being somewhat of a cult hero - thanks to his marauding runs with the ball from deep, Jamie Vardy's affectionate 'slab head' nickname and down to earth nature - to the nation's new whipping boy.

Every mistake has been scrutinised to the nth degree, and the 27-year-old's performances have been picked apart on a weekly basis - arguably more so than any other Premier League star since his arrival at Old Trafford.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side have long been linked with another central defender as the Red Devils defensive woes persist this season, but whether that man should be brought in the partner or replace Maguire is still debated.

The Yorkshireman made an instant impact in Manchester. In 2018/19, United conceded 54 goals on the way to a sixth-placed finish. One year later, with Maguire added to their ranks, Solskjaer's men climbed to third in the Premier League, leaking just 36 efforts.

Although the team also benefitted from Aaron Wan-Bissaka's arrival at right-back and a full season under their Norwegian manager, Maguire was made club captain halfway through that campaign, highlighting his importance to the side.

When comparing the England international to his regular partner in the heart of defence, Maguire comes out on top in multiple departments. His front-footed nature and defending style compared to Victor Lindelof is highlighted in several stats.

Maguire has so far this season completed 3.4 attacking challenges compared to the Swede's 1.35 per 90, has recovered the ball in the opposition's half 1.15 times a match on average whereas Lindelof has done so on just 0.55 occasions, and has also displayed his passing talent by completing 0.35 key passes per 90 to Lindelof's 0.1.

Some of these figures may be down to Maguire naturally being more comfortable stepping forward with and without the ball but, he's also producing solid numbers in the defensive sphere.

The two team-mates share the same 1.5 tackles on average for a game this season, and Maguire has also lost the ball in his own half 0.2 times per 90 less than United's number two.

It appears the current captain is United's first-choice centre-back on merit, so how does he compare with two players who have been linked with challenging him for his shirt in the not too distant future?

Brighton's Ben White and RB Leipzig's Dayot Upamecano, respectively, are the latest names supposedly placed on Manchester United's wishlist. With Paul Pogba and his infamous agent causing a stir once again, there could even be the funds to make a move, should they so wish, for one of their targets when the transfer window opens next month.

White impressed during his loan spell at Leeds last season and has adjusted to life in the top-flight seamlessly. The Seagulls defenders 4.1 tackles and 0.67 key passes per 90 dwarfs Maguire's figures, and he also holds a slight edge when it comes to ball recoveries in the opponent's half, dribbles and interceptions.

Upamecano was the only player who could beat Maguires attacking challenges, with the Frenchman completing 3.8 on average in a game, and he also executed more challenges with 2.5 per 90.

However, that is where the good news stops for those who look to beat one of United's most talked-about talents at every opportunity.

Maguire loses the ball in his own half the least, wins the highest percentage of challenges with his 68% success rate pipping Upamecano's 67% and Lindelof and White's 61%, and also, unsurprisingly, wins the most aerial duels with Lindelof's 62% and Upamecano and White's 67% win ratio making Maguire's 73% look even more impressive.

Only Upamecano makes more key passes and only White recovers the ball in the opposition half on a more regular basis. Essentially, Maguire is a good all-round defender capable of doing the dirty, more traditional side of the game, while also being comfortable with the modern-day demands of a centre-half.

He is perhaps a severe victim of his price tag then. A factor that was completely out of his control. If he makes a mistake he's labelled an expensive flop incapable of taking United to the next level, if he puts in an exceptional performance it's simply seen as what's expected of an £80m player.

In truth, Maguire may never be world-class, with incidents such as his red card against Denmark and Leipzig's third goal illustrating his deficiencies, although his transfer fee will always mean he is compared to players of that calibre.

The Virgil van Dijk's and Sergio Ramos' of this world lead the charge in the defensive quarters, but Maguire isn't as far behind as many would have you believe. If United can find a partner of elite ability, don't be surprised to see the Englishman's game rise just as Joe Gomez's and Joel Matip's did when Liverpool acquired their Dutch defender.

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