Manchester United’s manager, Erik ten Hag, made a significant shift in his tactics by deploying Harry Maguire in the left-sided central defensive position during a remarkable display in the EFL Cup.
Maguire, in his first start of the season, showcased his abilities in this new role, marking a departure from Ten Hag’s earlier comments. Less than six months ago, the United manager had firmly ruled out the possibility of Maguire playing in this position.
On Tuesday night, in the EFL Cup victory over Crystal Palace, the 30-year-old occupied the left-sided central defensive role, partnering with Raphael Varane at the heart of Ten Hag’s defensive setup.
Last season, Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw had often taken precedence in this position, with Luke Shaw being a natural left-back. Additionally, Victor Lindelof had been frequently chosen over Maguire for this role over the past year.
As a result, Maguire had been sidelined from Ten Hag’s preferred defensive lineup, with Varane securing the right-sided central defensive position. Varane captained the team in Tuesday night’s victory over Crystal Palace and seemed to have established a strong understanding and partnership with Maguire.
The defensive lineup for United underwent significant changes, with several absentees such as Martinez, Shaw, Tyrell Malacia, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Sergio Reguilon. Varane and Maguire had only recently returned to fitness. Sofyan Amrabat, making his first start for the club, took on the left-back role. However, Maguire’s selection in the left-sided position was the most noteworthy change.
Ten Hag’s previous comments from last season, where he indicated that Maguire would not play in his preferred left-sided central defensive role again, were reversed. He had explained that the angles and defensive demands on the left side did not suit Maguire’s strengths, favoring Victor Lindelof for that position.
However, in this recent display, Maguire adapted well to his role on the left, often shifting wide and contributing to the build-up play from deeper positions. His early crucial block exemplified his performance, preventing a potential goal-scoring opportunity for Palace.
Ten Hag’s tactical flexibility was evident as the introduction of Lindelof at half-time saw the Swede take on the left-back role, with Maguire demonstrating his adaptability and showcasing his importance in Ten Hag’s plans for the season.