The true value of Harry Maguire: Without him, Manchester United are an accident waiting to happen

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Manchester United look too open, too ragged and too disorganised with Harry Maguire (inset) out injured - GETTY IMAGES
Manchester United look too open, too ragged and too disorganised with Harry Maguire (inset) out injured - GETTY IMAGES

Manchester United have come a long way under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer but they still have much to prove if they are going to mount a genuine title challenge

Despite boasting an attack as good as any, they do not have the defence to go with it. Too easy to score against, too prone to individual mistakes and alarmingly vulnerable at set-pieces, United frailties at the back have been apparent for some time.

It was a problem at the start of the season and it remains so as it draws to an end. It is why United have lost so many semi-finals, it is why they have done nothing more than chase Manchester City all year and it could yet be the reason why they lose to Villarreal in the Europa League final.

Certainly, if Harry Maguire remains injured, there is every reason to worry. United’s defence has leaked more goals than it should with the England captain in the middle of it. Without him, they look like an accident waiting to happen.

Harry Maguire (right) on crutches at Old Trafford - GETTY IMAGES
Harry Maguire (right) on crutches at Old Trafford - GETTY IMAGES

Having conceded three goals against Roma last week and fortunate it was not more, United have conceded two to Leicester and now four to arch rivals Liverpool. On Tuesday night, they had the excuse of resting players, but not this time.

Exciting to watch, sure, this was a wonderful game, exhilarating and entertaining as the action flew from one end to the other. United, though, were far too open, too ragged and too disorganised.

It was not until Liverpool signed Virgil van Dijk that they transformed from a good team into a trophy-winning one. Man City spent a fortune looking for a replacement for Vincent Kompany before finding Ruben Dias, whose arrival from Benfica is likely to secure them a Champions League trophy to go with yet another Premier League title.

United’s capture of Maguire has not had the same impact. He has not been poor by any means, but he has looked in need of some help. Maguire is not as mobile as Van Dijk or Dias, or as fast. He cannot cover the same ground and when teams break at speed, there is too much space for them to exploit.

United need someone quicker alongside him, a safety net to guard against opposition counter-attacks when the full-backs are high up the pitch.

Solskjaer's side needs the width the full-backs provide, especially when teams sit deep, but it means they leave gaps to be targeted behind them. It has been a persistent failing, as has their shocking inability to do the basics defending set-pieces.

Mohamed Salah slots the ball past Dean Henderson - SHUTTERSTOCK
Mohamed Salah slots the ball past Dean Henderson - SHUTTERSTOCK

There are too many free headers, too many dangerous balls getting into the box and not enough tight marking to clear them. If you wait long enough, keep forcing free-kicks and corners, you know you will score one eventually.

Even if you don’t take the first chance that comes your way, there will almost certainly be another.

Villarreal will be well aware of this and if United do what Arsenal did in the semi-final, concede first and chase the game, Unai Emery’s side will be tricky to beat. Arsenal let in a second as they searched for the equaliser and were constantly at risk of a third going in, even after they had pulled one back.

If United score first, they will be able to play to their strengths, defend in numbers, invite Villarreal on to them and strike on the break. Even then, you feel they will need to score at least twice to win the match.

United’s defence vexed Jose Mourinho for months before he got the sack, the refusal to sign a centre-back in his last transfer window paving the way for his dismissal. While Solskjaer is less critical of his players, more supportive and upbeat, he knows new signings are needed.

Whether he can find the right player, even if he is given the money to spend, is another matter. Liverpool did it, so have City. If United fail to follow suit they will not be winning the Premier League again anytime soon.