Harry Maguire’s arrival was always going to draw attention. His massive transfer fee grabbed most of the headlines, and for good reason — as it was an enormous amount of money — but don’t let it distract you from his quality as a defender. He was hard to acquire for a reason, and that reason is that he’s become one of the best centre backs in the Premier League over the last 2 seasons. Victor Lindelöf has done likewise despite United’s poor defensive record in that time, and if the 4-0 win over Chelsea was any indication, Solskjaer might have found the team’s most reliable defensive pairing since Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidić.
Of course it should be mentioned that we shouldn’t rush to judgement after just one match. United could very well collapse in the next 37 fixtures and be back at square one. However, it has to be said that for the first time in a long time, the centre back pairing looked like arguably the strongest position group.
United kept a clean sheet in the Premier League for the first time since the 0-0 draw against Liverpool in February of last season. Chelsea looked threatening early in the match, but Lindelöf and Maguire never really looked challenged in their matchups. Many of Chelsea’s shots came from the edge of the box or outside of the area, and every chance they managed to get on target was dealt with comfortably by David De Gea. Maguire was particularly effective in physical battles, on corners, and 1-on-1 with Tammy Abraham. Aaron Wan-Bissaka too had a great match, further justifying his own transfer fee. Luke Shaw was scrambling quite a bit, but he’s shown before he can be a valuable asset on the backline.
Chelsea managed to get 7 of their 18 shots on target on Sunday, but of those shots none really looked too threatening. Their best chances arguably didn’t even lead to shots, with Abraham missing out on a handful of passes across the face of goal. Chelsea took quite a few shots from distance, which were easily dealt with by De Gea, and also hit the post twice. Their superior passing and possession never really led to much, especially in the second half as United’s defense and midfield finally looked settled and in sync. They not only stopped Chelsea’s chances, they turned 3 turnovers into goals in quick fashion. United teams of old would’ve been proud.
This could be the beginning of something special for United, who have been anywhere from average to atrocious defensively for 6 years now. Even in Sir Alex Ferguson’s last couple seasons in charge, injuries and aging hindered a once impenetrable defensive corps. Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have been the only constant centre backs post-SAF, and it’s fair to say they’ve failed to fulfill the potential they showed early in their careers. They’re by no means useless, but massive mistakes and inconsistency have cost the Reds a lot of goals.
The 2019 Summer transfer window didn’t bring in all the reinforcements that United needed, but Maguire and Wan-Bissaka could both become monumental signings for the squad. It’s still early in the season, but it’s already looking like if this group can stay healthy they’ll concede a lot fewer goals than last season.