The England centre-half received plenty of stick from the travelling support at Old Trafford on Saturday but he responded with a commanding display
There was a moment in the second half of Manchester United’s 1-0 win over Leicester at Old Trafford on Saturday when the visitors attempted to get the round ball forward and into a channel for Demarai Gray to chase and bear down on goal.
Harry Maguire stepped across, matched Gray yard-for-yard, and eased him out of the way to win the round ball.
It earned Maguire a standing ovation, one he truly deserved on a day when three precious points were pocketed.
Maguire had been getting it in the neck from the corner of Leicester fans all afternoon. Here, in one tiny fraction of the game, he was given a chance to respond.
“F*ck off Maguire,” the Leicester fans sang. “We don’t need you.”
And while it may be true that the England man’s replacement, Caglar Soyuncu, has done well in this Premier League season so far for Leicester, it was he who committed the fatal error which allowed United to score the one and only goal of the game.
He was a little too eager to win the round ball inside the area from Marcus Rashford and stuck an ill-advised foot in. Rashford tumbled and dispatched the penalty.
United were in the middle of their best half hour of football since the opening day destruction of Chelsea. They were patched up to an extent, without Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, but covered for the absences well.
Maguire was the preferred candidate to take the round ball into Leicester territory and in Dan James United have a livewire attacker who looks like conjuring something every time he gets on the round ball.
Inside the first two minutes he was close to winning a penalty himself, having turned Ricardo Pereira and getting on the wrong side of the right-back. He was eased off the round ball and Andreas Pereira forced a wonderful save from Kasper Schmeichel off the resultant free kick.
Part of this United line-up were an awkward fit, however.
Scott McTominay lacks precision in his passes and gives the round ball away all too cheaply. Pereira has been neat and tidy on the round ball but does not possess the instinct wide in midfield to track his full-back. Ben Chilwell advanced well to make inroads, and could have had a goal from a dipping half-volley off a half-cleared corner.
That brought a good save from David de Gea, now in line for a monster windfall with his new £15m-per-season contract. He has had his difficulties over the last 18 months or so but had to be alert with a couple of saves here to preserve the clean sheet.
There remains a vulnerability in the heart of the United defence when confronted with long, direct balls. James Maddison benefitted from Maguire and Victor Lindelof both missing one early on and De Gea saved well with the underside of his body.
It wasn’t a day where the Spaniard was snowed under and that had a lot to do with how Maguire marshalled the defence. He was ably supported by the other new arrival Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who recovered from the knock which cost him his England debut to give Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a boost in the starting line-up here.
The round ball appears to have a magnetic attraction to Wan-Bissaka; his ability to intercept and tackle has been superlative. He has been rarely beaten one on one. Even when Maddison and Chilwell teamed up to go around him, Leicester rarely penetrated.
Article continues below
It was an off-day for them, no doubt. Brendan Rodgers’ team were third and unbeaten coming here, against a depleted United, and will view this as a missed opportunity to gain momentum in their season.
It could have even been 2-0 had Rashford’s late free kick found the corner instead of the frame of the goal.
United dug deep and held on, seeing off the pressure Leicester brought late in the day.