Manchester United and Harry Maguire see light at the end of the tunnel

Manchester United and Harry Maguire managed to bounce back from a rocky start to the season – and a rough 6-1 loss to Tottenham – with a 4-1 win against Newcastle last weekend which they followed with a superb win over PSG in midweek.

The club and players had been under fire for the way they had approached the start of the 2020/21 season with little sympathy from the fans for their late start to pre-season training. Manchester United’s off-season was full of drama with several players involved in controversial incidents, Harry Maguire chief among them, and a transfer policy draped in mishaps and confusion. The result in Newcastle showed that Manchester United are showing flashes of their form to finish last season, but the game was a lot more on edge than the result portrayed, which due to a lot of the summers events, only seemed to have papered over some of the cracks.

The shock Tottenham result was saved from the fans seeing it live at Old Trafford due to ongoing regulations but it was still an unforgettable day for what was the worst result against Tottenham since 1932. The return of Jose Mourinho after his time in charge of Manchester United always brings an extra spice to the game, as he always has a point to prove after being fired in 2018. Mourinho had been vocal the week prior having had a torrid schedule of 4 games in 8 days, which didn’t bode well for the fixture away at Old Trafford coming at the end of that run.

Tottenham had also started the season inconsistently, while United were having their worst start to a season for 30 years. Given the lack of reinforcements the pressure was on an unprepared Ole Gunnar Solskjaer side as their entire eleven made mistake after mistake, which were promptly punished by an impervious Harry Kane and Son Heung Min. 6 goals flew in as the red devils went down to 10 men as their fitness and communication waned as the game went on. The United fans were subsequently sharpening their knives for what wasn’t the first shock result already this season

The shameful nature of the Tottenham result was compounded by the apparent incompetency Manchester United had shown in the transfer window that was now closing in on them in the shadow of that defeat. An unclear back and forth with prized target Jadon Sancho’s owners Borussia Dortmund had been the saga of the summer, which left Manchester United fans facing much chagrin over their business practices yet again. With more pressure for changes after the 6-1 defeat, madness ensued as the transfer market clock ticked down.

Manchester United made 4 signings in the next 2 days, the most expensive of which was an 18 year old playing in Italy, Amad Diallo, who despite being potentially very impressive, was not joining the team until Jan 2021. Elite experienced Uruguayan attacking threat, Edinson Cavani, signed on a free transfer, which was under fire as that deal could have been done months before. Telles, the Brazilian international left back, and young unproven Uruguayan winger Pellistri rounded out a frantic 48 hours leaving fans questioning the decision making of the board when key areas of the team had not really been addressed like defensive midfield or center back.

Manchester United’s defence had been under the microscope since Mourinho demanded reinforcements in the summer of 2018, but Ole Gunnar was allowed right back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and center back Harry Maguire totalling £130m to bolster his defence when he succeeded Jose. Goalkeeper David De Gea had also been under fire after apparent decline with huge local prospect Dean Henderson coming in to pressure his position. United had one of the best defences in the 2019/20 season, especially after lockdown, so the start of the season surprised many albeit not going through some unique complications. Wan-Bissaka had been to Dubai, U.A.E on vacation, and being unaware of quarantine rules missed 2 weeks of training on return to Manchester.

Dwarfing this issue was the summer of Harry Maguire who was caught up in alleged attacks on police in the Greek island of Mykonos . This had surely taken its toll on the Manchester United captain mentally who had played the most minutes of any footballer in the world the prior season and had so little time to recover in the curtailed pre-season. The England centre back had also seen a red card for his country before the Newcastle game, so the calls for rest were voluminous as the issues piled up ahead of the trip to Tyneside.

The Newcastle stadium, never the same without their 55,000 home crowd, saw a hopeful, resurgent Newcastle United team against a nervy, anxious Mancester United side at kick-off late Saturday evening. Liverpool and Chelsea had dropped points and Manchester City limped to a 1-0 win over other challengers Arsenal. That compounding pressure got to United early with a shaky clearance of a cross by Luke Shaw going straight in to his own net after 4 minutes.

A disallowed goal and a missed penalty by Bruno Fernandes was not as catastrophic thanks to a towering and reconciling header from a corner by Harry Maguire that had already made it 1-1. De Gea showed why is still one of the best goalkeepers in the world with an incredible point blank save from Callum Wilson which could have turned the game for Newcastle if they made it 2-1. The mounting pressure by the toon army cracked when Fernandes and recent MBE recipient Marcus Rashford – another controversial figure of Manchester United’s summer – linked up gallantly on the break for Fernandes’s superb go ahead strike.

Rashford again caused more issues as space opened up releasing Wan-Bissaka for his 1st goal for Manchester United on his 50th appearance since his £50 million move. After Ole refreshed the midfield with Donny van der Beek and Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford rounded out an impressive finish for the reds with another counter attack with Fernandes returning the favour with the assist. The last 15 minutes separated the sides by a 3 goal margin to 1-4, but there were moments where the result could have gone in a different direction. Redemption had seemed to be achieved, especially for troubled defender Harry Maguire, who answered the critics most significantly with his overall display.

Manchester United are still not out of the woods due to their bizarre start to the season. However, it is a season that looks interesting with all the top clubs dropping points early, but new upstarts like Everton and Aston Villa are showing off their recently acquired weapons with impressive results and no European football to perturb their focus on the Premier League. Of 5 signings for Manchester United only 1 has featured so far and that is surely going to cause teething issues across the squad as they go forward in to the depths of the league, yet everything seems a lot more rosey after answering (at least some) of the critics with that win against Newcastle on Saturday.

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