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Talking Tactics

Imposing Maguire can frustrate Liverpool

Adrian Clarke 19 Oct 2019
Harry Maguire, Man Utd

Adrian Clarke explains the impact Man Utd defender has made at both ends of the pitch ahead of a visit from the leaders

Adrian Clarke is looking at key tactical talking points ahead of Matchweek 9. 

For all of Manchester United's current trials and tribulations, they are a tighter defensive unit than they were last season.

Making up for a creative shortfall, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's men have generally been difficult to break down.

Boosted by two high-profile summer additions, Harry Maguire and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, they have conceded eight goals in eight matches.

Only three Premier League sides can better that defensive record, which is sure to be put to the test by league leaders Liverpool this weekend.

The Harry effect

Breaking the world-record transfer fee for a defender was a bold move by Man Utd but Maguire has settled in well since joining from Leicester City.

Instantly at ease alongside Victor Lindelof, the England international has been a strong, calming presence.

While it has not been an error-free start, Maguire did excel in home matches against Chelsea, Leicester and Arsenal.

Keeping Tammy Abraham, Jamie Vardy and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang relatively quiet in those encounters should give Maguire confidence ahead of this stiff examination.

Statistically, Maguire is marshalling a back four who are significantly less generous than they were last term when they leaked 54 top-flight goals, the club's highest tally since 1978/79.

Thanks to a more solid structure, opponents are now finding it harder to carve out shooting opportunities.

Man Utd's defensive improvements
2018/19  Per 90 PL average PL rank
Shots faced (inc. blocks) 13.0 12.7 10th
Shots on target faced 4.6 4.3 10th
2019/20  Per 90 PL average PL rank
Shots faced (inc. blocks) 9.8 12.8 5th
Shots on target faced 3.8 4.3 5th

United are still waiting to score their first goal from a set-piece this season but it is only a matter of time before the floodgates open.

They have been at their most dangerous from corners and free-kicks, creating 14 chances across their opening eight encounters.

Remarkably, that is nearly half the total they manufactured in the entirety of 2018/19.

Coming into Matchweek 9 they are ranked second only to Everton at creating chances from set-plays.

Man Utd chances from set-pieces
  Chances PL rank
2018/19 33 18th
2019/20 14 2nd

Maguire's presence has helped to provide that additional threat.

Standing at 6ft 4in, the giant centre-back is United's principle target to aim for and the former Leicester City star has proven adept at getting on the end of crosses.

His seven attempts on goal, including four on target, trails only Scott McTominay, with eight, Daniel James, with 12 and Marcus Rashford's 15 among United players this season.

Maguire can also act as a distraction to leave space for somebody else to attack the ball but, even so, no central defender in the Premier League has enjoyed more touches inside the opposition penalty area.

The England man will be a huge threat to Liverpool from dead balls this Sunday.

Most touches in opposition box
Central defender Club Touches in opp. box
Harry Maguire MUN 21
Nicolas Otamendi MCI 19
James Tarkowski BUR 18
Yerry Mina EVE 15

The in-form leaders will arrive at the home of their rivals with a spring in their step, expecting to maintain their 100 per cent record.

If they do claim three points it will be Jurgen Klopp's first win at Old Trafford as Liverpool manager.

In a tactical sense I expect Solskjaer's side to be determined in their bid to frustrate the visitors.

Losing David De Gea and Paul Pogba to respective groin and foot injuries represents a double-blow but defence is United's strongest suit this term.

And breaking down their new, improved back four may not be quite as straightforward as many expect.

Also in this series

Part 1: Kean can shake up Everton attack
Part 3: Palace unsung heroes pivotal to promising start
Part 4: Blades' bold approach can pay off against Arsenal

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