Ian Ladyman: Harry Maguire had a reasonable display in England’s 1-0 loss to Italy… He still has to fight for a place at Manchester United but is far from Gareth Southgate’s biggest problem
England lost 1-0 to Italy at the San Siro in the Nations League on Friday night. They are winless in their last five matches despite their recent lack of playing time.
On the giant screen at half-time at dear old San Siro, it simply said Grazie Milano. Thanks Milan. for what to come? To stay? For not complaining?
Either may be appropriate. For an awfully long time, it was a really bad game of international football.
With the Gods a goal behind, however, something else was happening as the England and Italy players made their half-time drinks. England fans chanted in support of Harry Maguire.
England lost 1-0 to Italy in the Nations League at the San Siro on Friday night
It’s been a while since England’s defender heard something like that. Such has been the trajectory of his recent career with Manchester United that he must have stopped reading reviews long ago.
With his country, it has generally been different. Maguire was not playing well for United before last summer’s European Championship but he did for Gareth Southgate during the tournament.
Currently he is not playing any football for United. He was jettisoned by new manager Erik ten Haag. But Southgate remains loyal – admitting the night before this game that he had no better options – and here in Milan he was at least partially rewarded.
Harry Maguire put in a solid display at the heart of England’s defense against Italy
Once again, England didn’t play well here and their World Cup chances dwindled as winter approached.
Five matches without a win. Only one goal – a penalty – was scored. It is desperate stuff in the context of what has gone before under Southgate.
But England, with Maguire in the middle of a three-man defence, conceded only one goal and it was a very good one that came out of nowhere.
After a shaky start, Maguire had an okay night. Of course when Southgate assesses his side’s problems ahead of Monday’s game against Germany, the performance of his back three will be nowhere near the top of the long list.
The early stages of Maguire’s evening can be taken straight from his United Lowlights reel. It is the lack of conviction and inability to make good decisions when given the opportunity to play in the Premier League that has characterized his football. At his best, Maguire defends with certainty and relies on instincts like discipline. But he hasn’t been that way for a while, and here he is reflecting on the opening moments.
Gareth Southgate will have a big problem to think about this winter ahead
Italy right back Giovanni Di Lorenzo was offside as he raced in to bring down Nick Pope in just the second minute. But Maguire didn’t know it as he fought desperately for his opponent, unable even to get an illegal hold on the Italian’s shirt as he went past him.
Minutes later Maguire’s header bounced off the bar past Gianluca Scamacca at the far post. Maguire might not have recovered had that chance gone.
As it was, Italy gave Maguire his first meaningful start since United’s 4-0 defeat by Brentford on the second weekend of the Premier League, despite being beaten again by Scamacca just before the quarter-hour. Season.
Mancini’s Italy was poor. The hosts started well but failed to sustain any sort of regular intensity. Italy’s world has fallen apart a bit since becoming European champions 14 months ago and the most generous thing you can say about them here is that they look like a team in transition.
Harry Maguire will still be looking to force his way back into Erik ten Hag’s United side
Still, their failure to pressure Maguire regularly was puzzling. Perhaps they don’t watch TV in Italy but it seemed that Mancini’s players were not aware of Maguire’s recent struggles.
It’s like they didn’t know they were playing a defender out of touch and out of proper playing time. Corners and set pieces – many of which were under the watchful eye of the sophisticated referee – were handled aimlessly by Italy. In theory, everything should have come to Maguire’s head. But so little is actually the fact that Maguire was able to grow up in this game.
England have to do better than this in Qatar. They will need to be even better against Germany if they are to have any chance of beating their first good team since beating Denmark in the semi-finals of the Euros. Broadly speaking, there is a rather uncomfortable feeling of running out of time.
It could still be worse, too. Having recently arrived in exile at United, Maguire was fine playing here.
But if Ten Hague does not agree to change, can Southgate play him in the World Cup? It seems a stretch to think. Nevertheless, the Maguire conundrum is some way from England’s most pressing problem.