Harry Maguire is feeling optimistic about his chances of being fit for the Europa League final, according to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Maguire suffered ankle ligament damage in an awkward collision with Anwar El Ghazi during the 3-1 win over Aston Villa on May 9 and subsequently had to be withdrawn.
It was an unusual situation for United and Maguire to find themselves in, as the centre-back had played in every minute of 71 consecutive league games for the Red Devils – and in his final five for Leicester City before moving two years ago – until that injury.
In fact, Maguire has played for 9,615 minutes in all competitions since the start of 2019-20. Prior to the defeat to Liverpool on Thursday, that was almost 1,000 more than any other player across the top five leagues.
That loss to the Reds came just two days after losing to Leicester, meaning United have been beaten in both games without their captain and Solskjaer was quick to accept that he will surely not play again in the Premier League this term.
Given United are already guaranteed to finish in the top four, their focus is now on facing Villarreal in the Europa League final on May 26, with Solskjaer hoping to end his wait for silverware at the club.
The manager offered an update on Sunday, insisting United will take no chances with Maguire’s fitness.
“He’s making progress,” Solskjaer told reporters. “When I spoke to him this morning he was quite positive but, naturally, the day after it happened we were all down.
“We saw early on, or we decided that we have to focus, we have to be positive, and think that you’re going make it until you have to say ‘no’. I’ve always been an optimist, so we’re positive.
“But we’ve consciously taken the route of not testing him out too early, too quickly, because we don’t want to aggravate something. He wants this so much, so he doesn’t want to take any risks, either.
“Hopefully we can have good news early, but I’ll give Harry as long as it takes, because of course he has shown his importance.
“Hopefully he’ll speed up the recovery and be ready for the final, but I’ll give him as long as he needs, until he says ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”
Although Solskjaer needs no convincing of Maguire’s influence, fans and pundits have not always been so kind about him considering United made him the world’s most expensive defender when they bought him in 2019.
Maguire has missed 12 games for United in all competitions, most of them in the domestic cups, so comparing them directly with and without their captain is a pretty redundant exercise.
Examining his individual numbers offers a broader picture of his influence, though. He has helped United to 42 clean sheets in all competitions since joining, the most of any defender across Europe’s top five leagues prior to the Liverpool loss. He was also directly responsible for by far the most clearances (391), headed clearances (244), duels won (645) and aerials won (432) over that same period.
Unquestionably a good stopper, he has also proved suitably adept with the ball. Maguire has made 6,152 successful passes in his United career, again the most of any defender in those top European leagues over the aforementioned period. Of those passes, 2,142 have been completed in the opponent’s half, which is the best figure for any nominal centre-back.
Maguire can also claim to have had as much of an influence on United’s patterns of play as any Solskjaer signing – barring Bruno Fernandes, of course.
In the Premier League this season, Maguire has started 24 open-play sequences that have ended in a shot, which again was the highest number among the division’s centre-backs until his injury.
Maguire has not only made United’s defence more resolute; he has directly impacted their use of the ball. His absence has already been keenly felt, but at least the United captain might start to be acknowledged as one of the most influential players in England – not that it was ever in doubt for Solskjaer.
“We’ve known it [his importance] all along, of course. But maybe some people open their eyes when he’s not playing! I certainly felt I became a very, very good player when I was injured. People suddenly realised what I could do as a sub, or as a player,” Solskjaer continued.
“Harry’s been our leader, he’s a captain. Ever since he’s come in, he’s been more or less ever-present, so of course he’s a big miss at the moment.”
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