It’s not often that a pundit rows back on their comments within a few days, but Paul Merson was keen to apologise to Harry Maguire after questioning the wisdom of his £80m transfer to Manchester United.
The 26-year-old put in a very commanding display against Chelsea on Sunday, doing his defensive duties well whilst being composed in possession. Merson was asked about Maguire’s performance yesterday and he replied:
“I thought he was steady [against Chelsea]. He’s commanding, he’s got that presence, he looks like a centre-half, he doesn’t mess about. I thought he did very well, I did.”
“I thought I was very critical of him on Saturday if I’m being honest, on Soccer Saturday. I tried to get hold of him today, I’ll talk to him tomorrow, he text me back. I thought I was a bit critical if I’m being honest.”
The numbers for Maguire from the game make for impressive reading. He won five out of six headers, according to Wyscout, he won 69% of his one-on-one defensive duels while 86% of his passes found a teammate.
Usually, this is where you add a word of caution saying that this was only his debut and that those numbers may not be sustainable over a whole season.
However, if you look at Maguire’s record from last campaign, every statistic stacks up pretty much. For club and country, he actually had an 89% pass completion rate last season.
His aerial duel success rate was 65.1% for Leicester and England during the 2018/19 campaign so he was performing above average against Chelsea. He may lose a couple more headers in upcoming matches but it’s not a significant drop-off.
For one-on-one battles, Maguire won 62.8% last season so there is very little difference between that and his first game for United. He was simply just playing to his usual level in the 4-0 win over the Blues.
It’s an extremely promising start for the England international. There’s no doubt that United had to pay over the odds to get the defender this summer, but that’s the nature of the inflated market that all clubs participate in.
There are not many world-class defenders available, especially at the age Maguire is currently. For £80m, they have a player who could comfortably play in the first team for six to seven years.
Putting things in that context, £80m doesn’t sound like such a bad investment. Merson questioned the figure at the weekend, much like many questioned Virgil van Dijk’s £75m switch to Liverpool.
The early signs suggest that Maguire could turn out to be just as successful purchase, but he will need to keep his form. If he does, both he and United’s defence will surely play a key role in getting the club back into the Champions League for next season.