Can Harry Maguire have the same impact on Manchester United that Virgil van Dijk had at Liverpool? After a very encouraging debut the instant reaction is that the England man may be able to do just that.
A few words that popped up in the immediate post-match analysis of Maguire’s debut against Chelsea hold the key really – presence, solid, dependable were all mentioned when rating the former Leicester City man, all overshadowing what he actually did on the pitch.
Getting the Man of the Match award ahead of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial was laughable, but it perhaps points to Maguire starting off on a similar path to Van Dijk, who has grown to become a super-human presence in the middle of Liverpool’s defence.
Perception is everything in football and in this world of media extremes, Van Dijk has gone from overpriced to irreplaceable in 18 months – Maguire and United will hope he’s just taken the first step on a similar career arc.
In truth, Maguire had a decent debut, not an overly flashy one, as early nerves and an understandable lack of cohesion could have led to a couple of Chelsea goals, but once they were ahead the Red Devils looked a lot more comfortable.
Style of play under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will help. Leicester often sat back deep and compact and sprung forward on the counter-attack – at times being led by Maguire striding out of defence with the ball at his feet. United will play a similar way from what we saw at Old Trafford on Sunday.
Harry Maguire’s debut – What they said
"He's done exactly what we signed him for," United boss Solskjaer said. "His presence in both boxes, his composure and calmness on the ball, and he is a leader."
More key words here – “presence, composure, calmness” three things that United’s defence lacked on more than a few occasions last season.
Jose Mourinho couldn’t help but mention that he had wanted to sign Maguire 12 months before he finally arrived – and how things may have been different had he got his man…
"He was solid like a rock," declared Mourinho through ever-so-slightly gritted teeth.
"You can be very dangerous in attack but if you feel that a mistake is around the corner it takes your confidence away and you don't play as well. When you feel there is something that allows you to play you are much more confident.
"As I always said, Lindelof can be a very good player. With Maguire it can be a very good partnership."
Former Foxes team-mate and also ex-Man Utd man Jonny Evans feels that Maguire is the perfect fit for Solskjaer’s side and sees comparisons with Van Dijk.
"You can see comparisons in their games, both are great on the ball, and Harry has got explosive pace people don't see," he said.
"He is powerful, good in the air...Everyone will compare the transfer fees but it's so difficult to judge transfer fees nowadays. The most important thing is for him to be judged on how he plays. I don't have any worries about him there.
"He is tailor-made for Man United, it was a great move for him. He's a player they needed.”
Maguire’s role at Man Utd
Supply-and-demand dictated that Maguire cost United £80m, whether he is truly worth that amount is largely irrelevant, but £80m will be money well spent if he can bring a real change in his new team’s overall defending.
He’ll have to get used to having more pressure on his shoulders, and he’ll have to get used to being the centre of attention and more importantly a role model and leader of that defence at Old Trafford.
As well as his defending, Van Dijk’s greatest strength is that he elevates the players around him as he exudes confidence and there was a visible lift in Liverpool’s defending from the very first moment he stepped onto the pitch in red.
It’s not enough, then, for Maguire to come in and just give seven or eight-out-of-ten performances week-in and week-out, he has to be both excellent himself and instil excellence in his defensive partners for him to be seen as a success.
With Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Luke Shaw he has pace at full-back but also young players that will need pointing in the right direction in terms of positioning – Maguire had to fill in for Shaw a couple of times against Chelsea but swept up well.
The signing could also be the making of Victor Lindelof – a player Mourinho insisted was good enough to become a regular United centre half and one who could very much do with a calming influence alongside him.
Linedlof has plenty of defensive attributes but does lack maturity and a touch of patience – if having Maguire around can just improve him in those areas then Solskjaer could well have a decent partnership on his hands.
Maguire’s ability to come out with the ball is a talent, but first and foremost he has to defend, and help his fellow defenders to improve and come together as a unit.
Van Dijk has done that with Liverpool and, while Maguire is not at that level yet, if he can bring that assured presence (there’s that word again) to their defence then £80m could soon look like money well spent.