Maguire: United badge is the only motivation needed
Manchester United captain Harry Maguire says that the players must put the absence of the Old Trafford crowd to their back of their minds when they face Sheffield United on Wednesday.
The Reds have already played two behind-closed-doors fixtures during the coronavirus-impacted 2019/20 season, but both matches took place away from M16 – at the home grounds of Austrian side LASK and Tottenham Hotspur, respectively.
That means the upcoming test against the Blades will be the first competitive match to take place without a public crowd in the famous stadium's 110-year history.
But Maguire thinks Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men can muster plenty of their own positive energy, from both the millions of fans watching at home and the pride of playing for United.
“One thing for sure is, every time you put a kit on with the Manchester United badge on it, you don’t need much spurring on," stated the England international.
“You know how big the club is, the history it has got, and it’s such a big, iconic club. If you can’t get motivated to win a game of football for this club then you’re in the wrong sport, to be honest.
“It’s disappointing not to play in front of your fans," he continued. "But we know they’re going to be in front of their TV screens, watching us, shouting for us, and the main thing is we want to put smiles back on their faces.”
United came from behind to earn a point against Tottenham Hotspur on Friday, in the club's first game following the Premier League's resumption. But the Reds face another tough battle against Chris Wilder's side in a few days' time.
Yet while we encountered a boisterous Bramall Lane crowd when we met the Blades back in November, this game will be played in the eerie setting of an empty ground. Maguire thinks that may reduce the usual advantage for home sides, but also believes it might simplify the game right down to its basics: 11 players against 11 opponents.
“Maybe it does take away the home fans making the atmosphere uncomfortable for the away team," the United captain mused. "But it’s still about the 11 players who turn up on the day.
“There is enough talent in our squad to go and beat anyone. We’re fully focused on ourselves and are not looking at it being home or away. We’re just seeing every game as a chance to try to get the three points and perform at our best.”
The topsy-turvy 3-3 draw that the sides contested in late 2019 was a dramatic experience for the former Blade, who was given a positive reception by the home fans before kick-off. But the skipper is hoping the Reds can deliver a more authoritative performance on Wednesday.
“It was a crazy game,” reflected Harry. “We were really poor in the first half. No doubt about it, it was one of our poorest first halves of the season.
“We managed to find ourselves two goals down but then got in a great position and looked like we were going to win. They didn’t really create any chances in the last 20 or 30 minutes of the game and then, obviously with the last kick, they found space and it was a good finish from Oli McBurnie. In the end, it was a tough result to take but I don’t think we deserved any more on the day than a point. We weren’t good enough and know we have to perform better in this game.”
Maguire famously came through the Sheffield club's youth system, and was part of a team that reached the 2011 FA Youth Cup final, only to suffer defeat against a Reds outfit featuring Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba.
Understandably, therefore, the 27-year-old is impressed by what Wilder and co have done in the club's first Premier League season since 2006/07.
“It’s a fantastic football club and one I’m really proud of because of how well they’re doing at the moment. I am really thankful for the opportunity they gave me to start my professional career, and the faith and trust they showed in me at a young age. I’m really happy with how they’re doing and theirs is the first result I look for after a game with United. Hopefully, they can finish one place below us!”
The Yorkshireman was speaking to United Review, as part of an extended interview that features in a unique edition of the matchday programme, which fans can order online.
“We’re going to miss the fans,” our no.5 concluded. “Home and away, they follow in great numbers and the support is incredible. One day, they’ll be back. And, when they’re back, I am sure the atmosphere is going to be even better and louder than it normally is at Old Trafford – if you can beat that.”
Fans can order a copy of Wednesday's United Review, which includes the interview with Maguire, via www.manutd.com/programme.