International breaks are often insulted, but there were few complaints about the latest, which could not have come at a better time for Manchester United and especially Harry Maguire.
The previous four weeks of matches since last month’s international break could not have gone much worse for United.
A 4-2 loss to Leicester City was followed by a narrow comeback victory over Atalanta before then being beaten 5-0 by Liverpool.
There was a strong response the following week with a 3-0 win over Spurs, but it did not last long as next time came a lucky draw against Atalanta and then another humiliating defeat by a close rival – this time Manchester City, which should have won far more than 2-0.
During the few weeks, United have fallen from third place in the table to sixth place, and the pressure has increased massively on Ole Gunnar Solskjær.
Video not available
The manager is clinging to now, but it increasingly looks like the end is approaching and just a few bad results may be his curtain call.
Therefore, the break as such came as a relief. This has given Solskjær a significant break to re-evaluate where United are, ahead of another tough match.
Maguire has also been a big advantage of the break, especially given how he performed for England.
The United captain has had it tough this season, especially over the last month after he was rushed back from a calf injury and at times not quite fit.
Fatigue after such a hectic summer with the European Championships 2020 must also play its role – as it has done with so many others from the English team – and as a result, his form has fallen off a cliff.
Maguire enjoyed a solid albeit unspectacular year last season, but excelled during the European Championships, an absolute cut in the back line as England reached the final. Maguire was named in the tournament team.
However, he has looked like a shadow of that player so far this season, where he has been constantly pulled out of position, making silly, costly mistakes and looking completely deprived of confidence.
Still, the 28-year-old has traveled away to play for England over the past week and has looked completely revitalized.
It helps that the level of competition – Albania and San Marino, where England scored 15 goals past the pair – was, to say the least, quite low, but Maguire did not put a foot wrong in any of the matches and scored the opening goal in both games. As a result, he is now the Three Lions’ highest-scoring center-back ever.
His celebration after scoring against Albania, where he pushed his ears to his opponents, suggests that the (justified) criticism he has received has gotten him down. But hopefully for Maguire and United, the break away from Old Trafford’s spotlight will have made him a good world.
When an attacker is out of shape, it is often said, ‘He just needs to have a goal, whether it comes from the knee or the back end, then he just needs to score again and then he is gone.’
What does it mean that the same cannot be said of a defender? ‘He just needs a clean table, a good solid fight without mishaps. It does not matter if it comes against a team that is ranked number 210 in the world, which has only scored twice in two years. ‘
With a little luck, Maguire will return to United this week with renewed confidence, refreshed and ready to start improving for his club.
He is by no means the only United player to have underperformed this season, but United have been missing their Mr Reliable, and the sooner they get him back, the better.
Sign up for our United newsletter so you never miss an update from Old Trafford this sseason.