Manchester United captain Harry Maguire has spoken out for the first time after Erik ten Hag atypically played him as a striker during Thursday’s Europa League win against Real Sociedad. Ten Hag used Maguire as a late substitute by lumping him upfront alongside Cristiano Ronaldo as United searched for a second goal to top Group E.
The 29-year-old was surprisingly dropped back to the bench after helping United keep a clean sheet in Sunday’s 1-0 Premier League win against West Ham United. Victor Lindelof, seemingly Ten Hag’s third-choice central defender, started again in the Europa League and played for an hour before being replaced.
Scott McTominay was his replacement, though, and Maguire had to wait until the 82nd minute to get onto the pitch. But he didn’t enter his natural role, startling supporters by roaming into an attacking position alongside Ronaldo, likely in a last-ditch effort by Ten Hag to get the ball into the box and score a crucial second goal.
United were leading 1-0 on the night but had to win by two clear goals to replace Real Sociedad as Group E winners due to the Spaniards’ superior goal difference. However, the Maguire experiment wasn’t a success and Ten Hag’s side couldn’t breakthrough, setting up a daunting play-off round against one of the Champions League’s third-place teams.
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After full-time, Maguire was one of several United players to take to social media with their usual post-match tweets. The Red Devils skipper didn’t mention Ten Hag’s left-wing decision, but acknowledged the win and thanked fans. He wrote: “Closing the group campaign with a win. Thanks for all your support.”
With Raphael Varane out injured until after the World Cup break, Maguire will have hoped his performance against West Ham was enough to keep his starting spot against La Real. His late goal-saving block of Jarrod Bowen’s effort was a particular highlight.
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However, Lindelof has impressed Ten Hag when given the opportunity and the England international has more winning over still to do. He may have to settle for a place on the bench again on Sunday when United visit Aston Villa in the Premier League, Unai Emery’s first game in charge.
All eyes will then be on Monday after the victorious, yet unfortunate outcome in Spain. UEFA will complete the Europa League play-off round draw, in which United could be pitted against Ajax, Barcelona, Bayer Leverkusen, Juventus, RB Salzburg, Sevilla, Shakhtar Donetsk or Sporting CP.
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