Tactics Journal

by Kyle Boas

Analyzing football tactics

Harry Maguire blocks everything for Manchester United

Once a meme, now Manchester United’s best-performing player on the night against Newcastle, Harry Maguire is in good form. He has displaced Raphael Varane at right center-back because he needs to always play on the right.

Erik Ten Hag put it simply in this press conference, in March last season:

“When you are left-footed, your better angles, and Harry can play with the left, but the right is obviously much better. […]

And how do we help him with [improving]? We do the training to give him coaching, give him instructions, but also not that long ago, I showed him a video on how to outplay opponents, how he can have more impact in possession and building up with his skills. Because his skills are really high. He’s really high-skilled for a center-back. He has so many skills, and he has to use that in a game.”

They will only play Harry Maguire on the right because the angles are better. It’s either right center-back or the bench. That not only applies to passing but it also applies to tackling and blocking.

Figure 1.1 - Harry Maguire shows the ball carrier inside by leading with his left foot.
Figure 1.2 - Harry Maguire pivots and then makes his body big to cut off the shot.

He is very good at making himself big. Show the defender inside and then make yourself big to block the pass or shot.

Figure 2.1 - Harry Maguire makes himself big and leads with his stronger right foot.
Figure 2.2 - Harry Maguire blocks the shot.

Make himself big, then close down the space in one swift motion.

Figure 3.1 - Harry Maguire shows the ball carrier inside while simultaneously blocking the back-post pass.
Figure 3.2 - Harry Maguire quickly closes down the space, makes himself big, and blocks the shot.

Show them inside because he can control the shot with his size; he can’t control what the other defenders behind him are doing to defend a cross or cut-back. Then close down the space big, angling the body to lead with the dominant right foot and hip.

Figure 4.1 - Harry Maguire blocks the cross.

This is the benefit of the angles at right center-back. To block a cross, he is using his stronger right foot. He’ll have more control with his stronger foot.

Figure 5.1 - Harry Maguire sees the ball carrier dismark and readies his body to challenge the ball.
Figure 5.2 - Harry Maguire quickly jumps to close down the space.
Figure 5.3 - Harry Maguire makes himself big to block the shot, but leaves widens his stance enough so that Andre Onana can see the ball through his legs.

And then he has great quickness to pair with his size. He was everywhere within the box, blocking everything.

Figure 6.1 - Harry Maguire challenges the ball carrier wide inside the box.
Figure 6.2 - Harry Maguire makes himself big and leaves his trailing leg bent and free to block the cross.

The technique to leave a trailing foot to block the cut-back pass was superb.

His only glaring mistake came during Newcastle’s goal, the only goal of the game. At this point, Manchester United had withstood a barrage of attacks from Newcastle because United struggled to build up or maintain possession. One shot was bound to go in.

Figure 7.1 - Harry Maguire thinks about challenging the ball, but he holds position.
Figure 7.2 - When the ball is passed wide, Harry Maguire stays forward, leaving a space behind him.
Figure 7.3 - Anthony Gordon gets behind Aaron Wan-Bissaka, and Harry Maguire isn't there to attempt to block the cross.

It was fine to initially jump out, but he should have realized that Bruno Guimaraes was fully covered, and then he should have quickly moved back into position so that his man behind was covered. Had he been in line with Aaron Wan-Bissaka or Luke Shaw, maybe he might have been able to get a foot on the cross. But the main culprit if you wanted to point a finger you’d point it at Wan-Bissaka for allowing Anthony Gordon to get behind him.

Don’t let that take away from Maguire’s stellar performance. He has been slowly building confidence under Ten Hag, and now he is commanding Manchester United’s back-line. He has always had blind confidence when he spoke, but he never looked sure in-game. He has been less prone to errors, carrying the ball, and distributing with more ease, and he is blocking every pass and shot he comes in close contact with.

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