Erik ten Hag has been told to swallow his pride and accept he got it wrong by axing Harry Maguire, having been told he must now be a first-choice pick at Manchester United if the under-fire coach wants to continue picking up good results and avoid talk of the sack at Old Trafford.
A late Bruno Fernandes goal stole the headlines over the weekend as the Red Devils claimed a timely 1-0 win at Fulham that eases the pressure on Ten Hag’s shoulders. Manchester United had gone into the game with an awful record of eight defeats from their opening 15 games, contributing to their worst start to a season in 51 years.
As a result, talk that Ten Hag was facing the sack had reached fever pitch in the build-up to the game, with this report claiming Sir Jim Ratcliffe had already decided to wield the axe and would make an approach for a rival Premier League boss as his successor.
Their next three games would clearly be key to Ten Hag’s future. Trips to Fulham and FC Copenhagen in the Champions League, with the week wrapped up with a home date against Luton are all branded ‘must-win’ games.
However, in Ten Hag’s hour of need of need, United have at least shown the ‘fight’ the manager is looking for in the first of those games, sealing a deserved victory over the Cottagers that keeps United in eighth but closes the gap on the top four to six points.
One man who appears to ‘get’ what it takes to play for United is Maguire.
The England defender was made available for transfer over the summer and suffered the ignominy of having the club captaincy stripped from him.
Ten Hag told Harry Maguire can save him from Man Utd sack
Maguire held talks over a move to West Ham, though the move did not materialise over a failure to agree personal terms.
As a result, the player decided to knuckle down at Manchester United, releasing a statement saying he would always give his all for the club.
That said, his situation did look bleak what with the 60-times capped England international starting the season as fourth-choice centre-half at Old Trafford.
However, a combination of injuries and a loss of form to those in front of him has seen Maguire elevated back up the pecking order.
He has now appeared nine times this season, starting the last five games in all competitions.
And United treble winner Peter Schmeichel reckons that, while Fernandes’ late goal stole the headlines, Ten Hag would not have been able to celebrate a crucial win had it not been for Maguire.
Schmeichel told Premier League Productions: “The best player for me [on Saturday] was Harry Maguire. He was majestic. He was here, there and everywhere.
“The adversity he has met and the criticism he has been in for and how he has turned it around. Every coach now will put him in first. He was fantastic and without him today I can’t see how Man United would have won.”
Maguire talks up his Man Utd record as Ten Hag makes admission
Ten Hag may well have been hasty in axing Maguire from his plans, and he may not be under the pressure of the sack that he is now had he started the defender from the beginning of the season.
Ten Hag stated of Maguire’s display: “He played a massive, massive game. A very good performance. He showed leadership and in and out of possession he was very good, so I’m very pleased with that performance from Harry.”
Maguire himself has also tried to talk himself up and believes he continues to give a good account of himself.
“If you look back on my last 15-20 starts for club and country, I would be happy to sit here and say I’m really happy with my performances,” he said. “My record under this manager speaks for itself. I haven’t started as many games as I like, but my win percentage when I’ve played is ridiculously high.”
Ten Hag, it seems, is also coming round to that way of thinking too. The defender has won 77% of the games he has played in for United under Ten Hag, with Lisandro Martinez the next best with a 65% win percentage.
Surely now the Dutchman must realise he has made a mistake and that by picking the England defender on a regular basis will be one of the best ways he can get good results and keep talk of the sack away.