Tyrone Mings would have surely felt somewhat hard done by when Gareth Southgate pinned the England team sheet to the dressing room wall last Tuesday night. The 28-year-old had performed well in the two games he’d played at Euro 2020, but with Harry Maguire fit again the Manchester United captain was preferred from the start against Czech Republic.
His performance illustrated why. While England still played within themselves, as has become the norm at this tournament, Maguire gave them another dimension when playing out from the back. There was more zip and verve to England in possession, at least in the first half.
“Tyrone has been an absolute colossus for us and came into the game at an important moment and did really well with that,” Southgate explained afterwards. “Harry has that presence and composure. His pass through to [Harry] Kane in the first half was a fabulous ball through the lines. There aren't many defenders in world football who can do that. It was important for him to get those 90 minutes.”
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Southgate was right to highlight Maguire as a supply line into Kane and England’s attacking line in general The 28-year-old completed more long passes (seven) than anyone else on the pitch against Czech Republic and also attempted more overall passes (71) for good measure.
England’s biggest problem at Euro 2020 to date has been their extreme sluggishness and lack of invention in moving the ball forward. In fact, England have progressed the ball upfield just 0.98 metres per second in open play - the lowest figure of any team at the tournament.
Maguire and his passing range from the back is an antidote to this. The role he plays for England is similar to the one that made Virgil van Dijk so important to Liverpool as a possession side. What’s more, Maguire as the left-sided centre back provides some balance to John Stones, another ball-playing defender, as the right centre back.
There are few players in the English game right now as divisive as Maguire. Indeed, the 28-year-old has his detractors. There are clear weaknesses to his game (just ask any speedy forward who has played Manchester United in the last two seasons), but there’s no doubt England are a better, stronger unit with Maguire in central defence.
It’s only now, after a period of absence, that this is being widely acknowledged. Now, Maguire’s importance to England cannot be doubted. His fitness is a key factor for the Three Lions as they target glory at an international tournament for the first time in 55 years. Maguire has to play.
Harry Maguire (left) and John Stones - England
Image credit: Getty Images
Against Germany, his passing range from the back will be even more important as Joachim Low attempts to take control of the centre of the pitch through Toni Kroos, Ilkay Gundogan and Joshua Kimmich who will push into the middle from his position on the right side. Ponder too long and Germany will find it easy to maintain their shape.
Kroos and Gundogan, however, aren’t as athletic as they once were and so Maguire could set the tempo for an energetic performance by England with quick passing into Kane and the wide forwards that turns around Germany’s midfield pair. Too many short passes in the centre of the pitch will play into the hands of the 2014 World Cup winners.
Three years ago, Maguire was considered a breakout star of England’s unexpected run to the World Cup semi finals. An £80m transfer to Manchester United followed soon after and somewhere along the line perceptions of the defender changed. Now, the true measure of Maguire is being taken at Euro 2020.
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