Manchester United: Andre Onana and Harry Maguire step up in Champions League

Andre Onana and Harry Maguire of Manchester United

Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag often reverts back to a simple demand when asked about players who are performing at a level below that required in a theatre as grand as Old Trafford.

“They need to step up,” the Dutchman likes to say.

In the Champions League against Copenhagen, on a night when United were honouring one of their greatest players and when the manager admitted “victory is our only option”, two of his most criticised players certainly did step up.

Harry Maguire and Andre Onana have been heavily scrutinised in recent times.

Maguire lost captaincy in the summer and West Ham United had a bid for him accepted. The 30-year-old opted to remain at Old Trafford but, having slipped to fifth-choice central defender – behind left-back Luke Shaw – no-one was sure why.

Some uncertain moments in the first half for the England defender did nothing to suggest a revival for Maguire.

Not that many people have been sure why Ten Hag paid £47m to sign Onana from Inter Milan either.

The Cameroon goalkeeper’s perceived strength is distribution, but against Copenhagen that was not in great evidence – with the two diagonal passes sent straight out of play in the first half.

However, with 18 minutes remaining, it was Maguire who forced his way onto the end of Christian Eriksen’s brilliant curling cross to the far post.

And with the final action of the game, deep into added time, it was Onana who beat away Jordan Larsson’s penalty to secure a first win of United’s European campaign and keep their hopes of qualification for the Champions League last 16 alive.

Onana’s personality shines through

Onana does not appear to lack confidence but at times during his short United career he has blamed himself for errors that have either cost goals or put his team under pressure.

His clearing kicks against Copenhagen were poor but, as Ten Hag pointed out, he produced a brilliant save to deny Lukas Lerager before securing the win by saving the penalty taken by the teenage son of former Sweden and United striker Henrik.

“He showed personality,” said Ten Hag.

“He knows that before, given the levels of what his skills are, he didn’t match his skills and he could do better.

“I think on Saturday [against Sheffield United] it was a very good performance and today as well.

“Don’t forget that brilliant save just after half-time in the counter-attack. And also don’t forget, one of his skills is he’s a very good penalty saver.”

What has changed for Maguire?

Ten Hag complained on numerous occasions last season that Maguire did not produce the form for United he has shown on England duty.

Despite such a bleak backdrop, it does seem the defender is starting to change his manager’s mind.

He was man of the match at Bramall Lane at the weekend and now has a first goal since February 2022.

Maguire is also playing on the left side of central defence, which is where he operated before Ten Hag replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager.

The Dutchman immediately moved Maguire to create space for the arrival of Lisandro Martinez, the combative Argentina defender who is sidelined following foot surgery.

“He’s much more proactive in possession, passing vertically, defending on the front foot, stepping in, and is very confident in duels,” said Ten Hag.

“I think he’s dominating in the right moment, dominating his opponents.

“And then he gets rewarded – it’s a very good skill for him, his heading – I have to say a great pass from Christian as well and a very good finish.”

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