Manchester United defender Harry Maguire was brought on as a striker to partner Cristiano Ronaldo during the latter stages of the Red Devils’ Europa League clash with Real Sociedad on Thursday night as manager Erik ten Hag rolled the dice in a desperate attempt to qualify for the last 16 of the competition. United won the match 1-0 but finished second in their group and will now face a two-legged play-off in February for the chance to progress to the round of 16.
United were three points behind Group E leaders Sociedad ahead of the showdown in Spain and needed to win the match by two clear goals to finish top of the group. And the Premier League giants enjoyed a strong start as teenage sensation Alejandro Garnacho lashed the ball into the roof of the net after 17 minutes to open the scoring after being teed-up by Ronaldo. Ronaldo then came close to grabbing a second for the visitors but saw his lobbed effort land on top of the net.
United were frustrated by their opponents as they attempted to double their advantage. And with six minutes of the 90 remaining, Ten Hag replaced the goalscorer with Maguire, who took up a position upfront alongside Ronaldo.
The bizarre tactical switch ultimately proved futile, however, as Real shut up shop and secured the result they needed to progress to the last 16. The substitution clearly raised a few eyebrows and after Ten Hag made the change, BT Sport co-commentator Robbie Savage offered a tongue-in-cheek response. “I never thought I’d see Harry Maguire and Ronaldo playing upfront together,” the ex-United midfielder quipped.
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Maguire’s cameo appearance in Spain came just four days after he returned to the United starting line-up for the first time in almost two months. The England international has started just three matches this season and was dropped by Ten Hag following the Red Devils’ 4-0 thumping at the hands of Brentford in August.
The 29-year-old started September’s defeat to Sociedad at Old Trafford but injured himself while on England duty and spent a month on the sidelines. He was recalled to captain the side on Sunday in the Premier League, however, as United defeated West Ham 1-0.
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