Manchester United legend and Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville has explained why Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are not right for each as a centre-back pairing, actually praising the latter’s qualities and suggesting he could be a top player with the right partner.
Lindelof was too easily outmuscled by West Brom striker Mbaye Diagne in Sunday’s disappointing 1-1 draw, while Maguire, albeit a decent defender, continues to struggle to justify his world record £80m transfer fee and is not the commanding leader United need him to be.
Both players work better with a more mobile partner like Eric Bailly, although his erratic form and ongoing fitness problems has made that option a difficult one to implement.
“Lindelof’s problem is Maguire, and Maguire’s problem is Lindelof,” Neville said while analysing the weekend’s action on Sky’s Monday Night Football programme.
“I think [Lindelof] is a really good player. He understands the game, he reads the game, I think he’s a good defender. If he was alongside a Rio Ferdinand or a [Virgil] van Dijk, I think he’d make a great pair."
Neville actually thinks Lindelof gets the raw end of the deal because Maguire’s vast price tag means United cannot afford to dispense with the Englishman and it will instead be the Swede that likely gets replaced when the club lands on a new centre-back – their priority this summer.
“The problem is he’s alongside somebody who isn’t the most mobile in Harry Maguire. They’ve invested £80m in Harry Maguire so they’re going to need to put someone alongside him,” Neville said of Lindelof’s frustrating situation.
But he suggested the problem for both players is they lack aggression in their defending. That was clear with Lindelof against West Brom, while Maguire doesn’t have a particularly hard physical edge or intimidating presence for someone of his build and stature.
Yet neither can really attack the ball without a partner who has legs on the cover or vice versa.
“Lindelof is a really good player and if Liverpool were looking for a centre-back pairing, he could do a really good alongside Van Dijk. But I don’t think he does a good job alongside Maguire because they both just drop back a little bit and you need someone to get up the pitch,” Neville explained.
“They’ve got to be more on the front foot and more aggressive. You’ve got to step past the striker. They’ve got to have the nerve to make a stomach churn a little bit if there’s a bit too much space in behind them than they would ordinarily think there would be. That’s what the best teams have.”
United have compiled a lengthy list of centre-back options to consider ahead of the summer transfer window, keeping an eye on a number of players as they attempt to whittle it down. Those names include Pau Torres, Jules Kounde, Ben White, Caglar Soyuncu, Raphael Varane, Tyrone Mings and David Carmo. Dayot Upamecano was a potential target but has agreed to join Bayern Munich.