Manchester United’s defensive mess against Liverpool underscored Harry Maguire’s influence

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Harry Maguire couldn’t resist being back in the backseat at Old Trafford on Thursday evening.

His unmistakable voice boomed from the Sir Bobby Charlton grandstand and echoed through the vast empty stadium. Maguire brought teammates back into position and encouraged others to take on their Liverpool counterpart.

During Tuesday night’s loss to Leicester, Maguire heard roaring instructions from 19-year-old rookie Anthony Elanga urging him to handle his man with more confidence.

Harry Maguire could only shout out his encouragement this week from the Old Trafford grandstand after an ankle injury.  Manchester United lost two games in his absence

Harry Maguire could only shout out his encouragement this week from the Old Trafford grandstand after an ankle injury. Manchester United lost two games in his absence

It was a night to forget for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as they lost 4-2 to Liverpool

It was a night to forget for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's side as they lost 4-2 to Liverpool

It was a night to forget for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side as they lost 4-2 to Liverpool

The United captain has come out for the week and looks more influential, despite not even playing

The United captain has come out for the week and looks more influential, despite not even playing

The United captain has come out for the week and looks more influential, despite not even playing

It’s what a captain has by nature, but no matter how powerless Maguire must have felt, sat there with his protective moon boot and crutches against his seat as United’s weakened defense was ripped to shreds by both Leicester and Liverpool.

Sometimes players prove their worth to a team by not playing and Maguire’s absence during a hectic three days has only underlined his importance to United.

It’s an accusation often made against Maguire that he’s not a £ 80 million defender – as if he set his own transfer fee – but he looked worth every penny this week.

As Gary Lineker tweeted during Liverpool’s 4-2 defeat on Thursday: ‘Sometimes people don’t realize how good you are until you don’t play. @ HarryMaguire93 is an example of this. @ManUtd looks defensive, with one ball out, in his absence. ‘

Lineker was one of those who made the point that United was much worse without Maguire

Lineker was one of those who made the point that United was much worse without Maguire

Lineker was one of those who made the point that United was much worse without Maguire

He was right, it was a mess all night long. After both Fred and Luke Shaw made catastrophic mistakes in the run-up to Roberto Firmino who scored Liverpool’s third goal, there was a 10-15 minute period when United seemed unable to get over the halfway line.

Thrown in and panicked, passes immediately went out of play or simply returned to their opponents’ possession. Diogo Jota should have finished the game when Eric Bailly drifted forward aimlessly, leaving him some space.

And the manner of Liverpool’s fourth, finished by Mohamed Salah after he was given freedom from Manchester with Victor Lindelof at a miserable disadvantage, would have tempted Maguire to stamp on the ground in frustration with his injured ankle.

Victor Lindelof struggled to contain the Liverpool attackers as United were beaten solidly

Victor Lindelof struggled to contain the Liverpool attackers as United were beaten solidly

Victor Lindelof struggled to contain the Liverpool attackers as United were beaten solidly

Eric Bailly can't stop Trent Alexander-Arnold from a poor central defense performance

Eric Bailly can't stop Trent Alexander-Arnold from a poor central defense performance

Eric Bailly can’t stop Trent Alexander-Arnold from a poor central defense performance

That’s not to say that far from being the fastest defender, Maguire could have caught Salah, but you’d like to think his backline arrangement and ability to carry the ball out of defense would have made the overall outcome less embarrassing.

So it is clear that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Maguire needs to get back into action as soon as possible to keep United’s season from ending.

The team rotation against Leicester, necessitated by a match list on which United played four times in eight days, only confirmed the fact that Solskjaer does not have the strength to properly challenge Manchester City for the Premier League next season.

Central defense is one of four or five different areas where United must strengthen in the summer market. A world-class center-back for partner Maguire is an urgent need.

Maguire injured his ankle last Sunday during a challenge from Aston Villa's Anwar El Ghazi

Maguire injured his ankle last Sunday during a challenge from Aston Villa's Anwar El Ghazi

Maguire injured his ankle last Sunday during a challenge from Aston Villa’s Anwar El Ghazi

It is far from clear whether Maguire will be fit for the Europa League final again

It is far from clear whether Maguire will be fit for the Europa League final again

It is far from clear whether Maguire will be fit for the Europa League final again

Solskjaer is well aware that Maguire's absence is a major problem for United in the final

Solskjaer is well aware that Maguire's absence is a major problem for United in the final

Solskjaer is well aware that Maguire’s absence is a major problem for United in the final

Bailly and Lindelof have cost United £ 60m together, but their performance against Liverpool once again underlined that neither can handle the task.

United should round out their Premier League campaign with victories over Fulham and Wolves to secure second place, but if Maguire is still absent for the Europa League final against Villarreal on May 26, they will be in trouble.

It is imperative that Solskjaer have tangible evidence that United has made progress this season. Winning the Europa League, the first trophy of his tenure, is essential.

How Maguire compares to other Premier League defenders this season.  Statistics provided by Opta

How Maguire compares to other Premier League defenders this season.  Statistics provided by Opta

How Maguire compares to other Premier League defenders this season. Statistics provided by Opta

United’s manager said it remained in touch and whether Maguire will make it to the game in Gdansk. He’s played on pain-relieving injections in the past and you know he’ll do anything to be on the field to try and lead United to a first trophy in four years.

The statistics support Maguire’s influence. There remain instances where he is exposed by faster attackers, but he has learned to counter this with an unparalleled reading of the game.

For example, he is ranked third among the Premier League defenders for interceptions this season. And when it comes to winning one-on-one duels, both on the floor and in the air, few are better.

Maguire has won three-quarters of all dogfights, making him the best in the Premier League this season, and he is tied for third when it comes to winning duels on the ground.

Among the defenders, he scores high for successful passes from the back, something Bailly and Lindelof didn’t seem to do at all on Thursday.

Maguire (left) celebrates with Mason Mount after scoring England's winner against Poland

Maguire (left) celebrates with Mason Mount after scoring England's winner against Poland

Maguire (left) celebrates with Mason Mount after scoring England’s winner against Poland

Gary Neville has suggested that Maguire would be a bigger loss to England than Harry Kane

Gary Neville has suggested that Maguire would be a bigger loss to England than Harry Kane

Gary Neville has suggested that Maguire would be a bigger loss to England than Harry Kane

Then there is that great unquantifiable quality of leadership. The constant organization of the players around him, the direction and encouragement he offers. It’s just not that effective from the stands.

It poses a similar dilemma to Gareth Southgate if Maguire is not fit again in time for next month’s European Championship.

Recently, Gary Neville described Maguire’s injury as Southgate’s ‘biggest problem’, saying he would be a bigger loss to England than talisman Harry Kane.

Quite a few United fans will have seen Neville’s comments about Maguire’s importance as exaggerated for a while. “Never an 80 million pound player,” was the consensus.

A few very forgettable days for United could easily have changed a few thoughts.

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