Maguire is the league's most creative centre-back

Wednesday 24 February 2021 14:54

New statistical analysis has revealed that Harry Maguire has been involved in the creation of more goals than any other Premier League centre-back in 2020/21.

The England international has scored twice in the league this term, and notched his first assist of the campaign on Sunday, when he played the ball to Marcus Rashford before our opening goal in the 3-1 win over Newcastle.
But simple goal-and-assist numbers only tell half the story.
A report in The Athletic, which emerged after the victory over the Magpies, revealed the Premier League players who are most often involved in the build-up to goals — ie. the passes that precede a move’s final set-up and finish.
And while attacking players like Bruno Fernandes and Marcus Rashford understandably dominate the goal-and-assists charts, no centre-back can match Maguire’s 11 goal involvements.
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Highlights: United 3 Newcastle 1

Goals from Rashford, James and Fernandes helped the Reds beat Newcastle to reclaim second spot in the Premier League...

Stat-hungry football fans — and fantasy football fans — have been banging on about assists for years, and not without some justification.
Players like Fernandes and Kevin De Bruyne have thrilled supporters with their creativity in attacking areas, where spaces are tightest and the most daring imaginative play is often required.
But obsessively focusing on assists can be misleading. The penultimate action of a move can be amazing — Marcus Rashford’s pass to Mason Greenwood against Liverpool in the FA Cup, for example — but not always. 
When Fernandes scored his stunning strike against Everton earlier in the month, the assist went to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who simply had to roll the ball a few yards to his left and watch Bruno do the rest.
In simple terms, any point of an attacking move can be important, and the straightforward facts show that Maguire is a vital creative hub for United’s attacking play, because he helps to build more attacks that lead to goals than anyone else in his position.
The only other defender that can match him is Joao Cancelo of Manchester City (also 11). That said, the former Juventus man is a full-back, and therefore spends a greater percentage of his time playing much further up the field than Maguire.
Bruno Fernandes's goal against Everton drew comparisons with a famous Eric Cantona chip.

Our skipper is lauded for his heading ability, his bravery and his imposing physical frame. But beyond the cliches and stereotypes about big, strong English centre-halves, Maguire is an excellent passer and under-rated ball-carrier.
And while some may shrug at these latest stats and say: ‘We shouldn’t need to rely on defenders to create’, it’s unlikely that the managers of top Premier League sides would agree with that assessment.
Liverpool’s full-backs Andy Robertson and Trent Alexander-Arnold have garnered widespread acclaim for their creative play in recent years, while Manchester City’s John Stones is a vital part of Pep Guardiola’s team structure, principally for his ability to carry the ball forward and play incisive passes — an attribute which has drawn comparisons with United legend Rio Ferdinand.
Why do teams need attacking defenders? Simply because the best teams regularly face opponents that like to sit deep and deny their most dangerous players space — what you may hear being referred to as 'the low block'.
In these situations, your attacking players have very little room to work with. They may be man-marked. So how do you overcome that problem?
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Goal of the Day: Maguire v Chelsea

Harry Maguire scored his first league goal for United with a bullet header against the Blues, on this day in 2020...

One way is to introduce more defenders high up the pitch. It creates overloads in certain areas, so the opposition may have to mark three players instead of two, for example. Even if they manage to do that successfully, that action will open up space in a different part of the pitch, which can then be exploited if the ball is used smartly.
If you look at United’s equaliser at West Brom earlier this month, Maguire carries the ball forward right up to the edge of the box, before feeding Luke Shaw with a simple pass. Shaw crosses, and Fernandes scores.
Maguire’s act is simple, but don’t overlook its importance. Every other Red in an attacking position is marked or crowded so, by coming forward, Maguire demands that a Baggies player most leave the space they are blocking and come towards the ball. The full-back marking Shaw is unsure whether to go to towards the ball (Maguire) or stay with Shaw, and by the time a team-mate has sprinted across to help, it’s too late. Shaw has been released, and because of that earlier indecision, the full-back is unable to get close enough to stop the cross.
These are the small, minor details that are often key in creating goals. Of course, the cross still needs to be decent, and the finish from Fernandes is superb. But without that initial positive action from Maguire, the chance is unlikely to have been created.
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Relive Bruno’s brilliant volley

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United’s ability on the counter-attack is fearsome — only last week, former Red Owen Hargreaves labelled us the best counter-attacking side in Europe — but not every opponent will let Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side use that particular weapon.
When we play West Brom, or a similarly defensive team, we may be allowed to dominate possession almost completely, but the space to use the pace of Rashford, Martial, Greenwood et al may be denied.
In that situation, almost every player on the pitch needs to be contributing in an attacking sense. To confuse, manoeuvre and destabilise the opposition; to sustain the attacks.
And it’s one element of United’s game that’s clearly improving. At the time of writing, we are the Premier League’s top scorers, with 53 goals, and all of our most-used defenders can point to impressive creative moments.
Think of Victor Lindelof’s stunning long ball for Marcus Rashford’s equaliser against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane. Shaw has delivered more assists than any other season in his career so far. Wan-Bissaka is behind only Maguire and Cancelo for build-up involvements.
All four players — not to mention David De Gea — would acknowledge there is work to be done to improve our defensive performances. But from an attacking perspective, and led by Maguire, the backline is growing in confidence when it comes to creative play.
The opinions in this story are personal to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Manchester United Football Club.