Talking Tactics

Can Onana and Maguire stand up to Newcastle test?

By Adrian Clarke 30 Nov 2023
Onana and Maguire - Man Utd

Adrian Clarke analyses the Man Utd pair who have impressed in league after difficult starts to the season

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Player analysis: Andre Onana and Harry Maguire

Manchester United will travel to Newcastle United having built up a bank of positive defensive displays thanks to three successive Premier League clean sheets.

Erik ten Hag’s side have conceded only six goals in their last eight league matches, with three of those coming against Manchester City.

Yet, as their thrilling 3-3 draw at Galatasaray in the UEFA Champions League on Wednesday shows, the United defence remain a work in progress.

Only five top-flight sides have faced more shots, but individual performances are certainly improving.

Two stars of a run where they have collected 15 Premier League points from a possible 18 since the start of October have been goalkeeper Onana and recalled centre-back Maguire.

If United are to keep the Magpies at bay on Saturday evening, those two players will have to play well.

Onana justifying Ten Hag’s faith

Onana endured a difficult start to life between the posts at Old Trafford after signing from Internazionale Milano in the summer, making a string of errors that had many questioning whether he should keep his place.

That talk had died down at the start of this week, courtesy of a run of form where the Cameroonian had thrilled United supporters with his outstanding agility.

One of only four regular 'keepers yet to be beaten from outside box in the league, Onana’s various save percentages are among the best in the division.

His overall save ratio of 76.1 per cent is second only to the 79.3 per cent of Liverpool’s Alisson.

Onana save stats 23/24
Statistic Onana PL rank
Saves  51 =2nd
Save % 76.1% 2nd
Save % inside box 67.4% 3rd
Save % outside box 100% =1st

Onana’s forte is his speed and nimbleness reacting to shots. Of his 51 stops, 35 have been classified as parries, with 26 of those saves coming from dives.

Onana's saves are shown below in Opta's Expected Goals on Target (xGOT) graphic, which shows the location of the shots he has faced, and to what extent the shot was expected to find the net.

The larger the circle, the more likely it is that the shot will go in, often because it has come from close range.

As you can see, a lot of Onana's best moments have come when diving to his left. Many of his more difficult stops have come in the central part of his net when moving quickly to respond to close-range efforts.

Onana’s terrific save to deny Erling Haaland from six yards out in the Manchester derby is one such stop which stands out.

Onana xGOT-6

*Own goals are removed

While Onana made a shaky start, Opta rank him as the second-most influential 'keeper in the Premier League this season.

He has conceded 3.7 fewer goals than the xGOT metric indicates he should have done, putting him behind only Luton Town’s Thomas Kaminski for the number of goals he has prevented.

Most goals prevented 23/24
Player xGOT Goals conceded Goals prevented
Thomas Kaminski 27.3 21 6.3
Andre Onana 16.7 13 3.7
Guglielmo Vicario 16.4 13 3.4
Jose Sa 20.4 17 3.4
Alisson 13.4 10 3.4

Onana's display in Istanbul, where he let in two free-kicks he should have stopped and was beaten by his near post, albeit by a brilliant shot, for the final equaliser, raised the spectres of his early-season form. 

But Onana has a great chance to revert to his recent Premier League form against a confident Newcastle team who are fresh from smashing four past Chelsea in their last home match. And Erik ten Hag is confident the goalkeeper can bounce back. 

Maguire's redemption

Maguire had fallen way down Ten Hag’s pecking order earlier in this campaign, losing the captaincy too, but since earning a recall he has been excellent.

Man Utd have won in five of his six Premier League starts, and the 30-year-old has been largely confident and calm during that stretch of matches.

No top-flight defender with at least eight appearances can match Maguire’s average of 7.31 successful long passes per 90 minutes.

Defender passing stats 23/24
Player Successful long passes/90
Harry Maguire 7.31
Joachim Andersen 6.23
Lewis Dunk 5.93

His quality on the ball has shone through in recent weeks, as he has switched the point of attack regularly with accurate diagonals or long-range through-balls.

This has made a positive difference to the way Man Utd attack.

Below are two examples from his exemplary display at Sheffield United, when Maguire put on a long-range passing masterclass.

Making his presence felt

The experienced centre-back has also excelled in the defensive side of the game. Maguire ranks top for headed clearances per match, highlighting his dominance inside his own 18-yard box.

He is also not afraid to put his body in the way of shots, ranking third in the Premier League for blocks.

Defender stats 23/24*
Player Headed clearances/90 Player Blocks/90
Maguire 3.82 Van Hecke 1.90
Collins 3.51 Tarkowski 1.54
Pinnock 3.23 Maguire 1.43

*Min. eight appearances

Newcastle, so strong at St James’ Park, will rightly start as favourites against Man Utd, but they will encounter a team who are showing greater resilience than before.

In Maguire and Onana, the Magpies must get the better of two of the Premier League’s most in-form players.

Also in this series

Part 1: How Ederson can help Man City overcome Spurs' high press
Part 3: Iraola's vision starting to shine at Bournemouth
Part 4: Why Van Hecke can fill leadership void in Dunk's absence

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