The feeling around Old Trafford on Wednesday evening will not be that of a normal Premier League fixture. This is a cup final for Manchester United, with the consequences of a victory being somewhat unprecedented in recent seasons.
A win will see Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side go three points clear of Leicester City, and a convincing result will all but solidify their place in next season’s Champions League. The significance of qualifying for the competition cannot be understated – it would provide as the necessary platform to recruit top level profiles this summer, to help elevate the Norwegian’s rebuilding job.
It’s a fixture that sees an immense level of responsibility be placed on each player’s shoulders, so where else to place a pre-game player focus with a fixture of this magnitude, anywhere else but the captain himself, Harry Maguire.
On the back of last weekend, all eyes will be on the Englishman. United’s skipper drew in criticism for his performance against Chelsea, struggling in his 1v1 battle against Olivier Giroud, comically capping the game off with an own-goal.
Inevitably, the £80m price tag was soon doing the rounds on social media. It was a rather reactionary outcry from some fans, who had quickly forgotten United’s defensive record this season. Progression has been made at the back in comparison to recent years, with a consistent team selection of the backline helping establish a solid foundation to build on. It is far from being the complete article, but to completely disvalue Maguire’s influence this season is certainly very harsh.Embed from Getty Images
That isn’t to say that his display against Chelsea should go without criticism though, and he will be the central focus of whatever reaction United put forward on Wednesday. Such duties are mandatory as a football captain, but these responsibilities are elevated when you represent the Red Devils.
It can be argued that it’s been relatively plain sailing for Maguire so far, solidifying his position in a side that has no competition at the back. His partnership with Victor Lindelof was predominantly paved through exactly such, alongside injuries, and the Englishman has been one of four permanent signings under Solskjaer that has been utilised heavily.
This is the modern-day case for new recruits at Old Trafford – after years of stagnation and poor planning, any fresh face through the door has the ability to improve fortunes on the field. Whether this is through stellar displays or just consistency in selection, new members of the squad will be granted the opportunity to showcase their worth.
Maguire has benefited from such at United, but he now faces serious scrutiny. A serious reaction on Wednesday will help cement Maguire’s position and re-inforce some faith in the skipper, as a game of this magnitude will require leadership from such figures.