Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag has explained why he brought on Harry Maguire as a striker in their 1-0 win over Real Sociedad on Thursday night.
The Red Devils went into their Europa League game in Spain knowing only a win by two or more goals would see them go directly through to the last 16 of the competition, avoiding the knockout round playoffs. When these sides met earlier in the season at Old Trafford, Brais Mendez scored the only goal from the penalty spot to give Real Sociedad the win and the advantage on head-to-head.
On Thursday night, Man Utd got off to a great start with Cristiano Ronaldo supplying Alejandro Garnacho for the opening goal inside 20 minutes, with the Argentine becoming the club’s youngest-ever non-English scorer in European competition. After the goal, Man Utd’s travelling fans must have been optimistic about their side getting a second to take top spot, but it didn’t come.
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In fact, the goal was Man Utd’s only shot on target in the match, with just four attempts overall. The second half in particular was terrible, with just one attempt in 45 minutes which didn’t trouble the goalkeeper.
Chasing the second goal with just under 10 minutes left to play, Ten Hag made a tactical switch up top which had a lot of fans confused. Taking off Garnacho and Christian Eriksen, the Dutchman brought on Fred and Maguire, the latter joining Cristiano Ronaldo as a strike force.
In his brief cameo up front, Maguire had just three touches of the ball, completed one pass and won one of his three duels. Unfortunately it was more David James vs Middlesbrough than Millie Bright vs Germany, but Ten Hag stood by his decision, noting it did bring a positive change to his team’s play.
He told reporters: “Clear [why Maguire went up front]. We needed the goal and then we went more opportune. With Cristiano and Harry Maguire, you have two good headers and we tried to go more direct into the box and I think we did several times, quicker to get into the box for the opponent.”
While some fans may have been upset with Ten Hag playing Maguire up front, a lot were just taken away by the bizarreness of the moment, while also sympathising that the Dutchman pretty much had no other attacking options.
Manchester United need a goal ⚽
🔛 comes Harry Maguire
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) November 3, 2022
Harry Maguire leading the line with Cristiano Ronaldo.
Never thought we'd be writing that.
— The United Stand (@UnitedStandMUFC) November 3, 2022
Harry Maguire up front: pic.twitter.com/qgk4BCq6Ue
— Josh Butler (@JoshisButler90) November 3, 2022
84' – Harry Maguire is playing up front with Cristiano Ronaldo
— utdreport (@utdreport) November 3, 2022
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Bring on the competition between Harry Maguire and Erling Haaland. 🤝 pic.twitter.com/ma3pwGfSGr
— 𝐕𝐀𝐑 🌴 (@Ziyechman) November 3, 2022
Erik ten Hag following Sarina Wiegman’s plan of, if in doubt, throw the centre half from Sheffield up front
— Kathryn Batte (@KathrynBatte) November 3, 2022
Have to say, never thought I’d see a strike partnership of *checks notes* Cristiano Ronaldo and Harry Maguire
— Ameé Ruszkai (@ameeruszkai) November 3, 2022
Two things we learned from Ten Hag's decision to play Harry Maguire up top:
1. Maguire is now United's 4th choice CB.
2. Ten Hag desperately needs a new striker.
— United Info (@allutdinfo) November 3, 2022
Maguire coming on up front wasn’t the only substitute which had Man Utd fans scratching their heads, with Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay replacing Donny van de Beek and Victor Lindelof just before the hour mark. But once again, Ten Hag had his reasons, mostly due to fitness.
“First of all, Donny was a long time out,” he said.
“He couldn’t play 90 minutes, so after 60 minutes we planned the sub and then we needed an extra goal so we brought more offensive players on, more four-against-four in the midfield, so we took more risks from that moment on.
“He [Lindelof] is performing well in combination with (Lisandro) Martinez. Sunday he was ill, so not available and then came Harry and he did well also. So I am happy we have the competition in many more positions and that is what we need, but also to cover all the games.
“With the Varane injury, it hurt us because also his leadership, but still we have three really good centre-backs and that’s good and that’s also what we need.”