Harry Maguire begins the most important week of his career. The Manchester United captain has two games ahead of him for England, against Italy and Germany in the UEFA Nations League, which over the next seven days will define his season and see if he can recover from a nightmarish 12 months for club and country.

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At 29, the world’s most expensive defender – Maguire eclipsed Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk by completing an £80m move from Leicester City to United in 2019 – has reached a career-high point. There has been very little good news at United in recent months, with injuries and lack of form costing Maguire his first-team place, but despite his fall to Old Trafford, England manager Gareth Southgate has remained loyal to one of his most reliable performers.

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Let’s not forget that just over a year ago, Maguire won a spot in UEFA’s UEFA Euro 2020 squad after an outstanding tournament in which England reached the final and narrowly won their first major tournament since the 1966 World Cup on penalties.

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The former Sheffield United and Hull City centre-back was also a key figure on his way to the 2018 World Cup semi-finals, though he was booed by a small section of England fans during Wembley’s friendly against Côte d’Ivoire in March. – Southgate denounced the fan reaction as “pure joke” – Maguire’s international career has been largely positive.

But with only two months left before the World Cup in Qatar, Maguire is relying on Southgate’s track record of staying with players who have served him well to keep him in the England squad. If Southgate’s selection had been based on form, Maguire would have known his days as an England regular were numbered.

The troubling state of his United career is perfectly illustrated by his coming off the bench in the 90th minute of last Thursday’s Europa League win over Sheriff in Moldova. Partly blamed for the defensive chaos that led to losses to Brighton and Brentford in the first two games of this season, Maguire now can’t even convince manager Eric ten Hag to trust him in the Europa League clash against champions Moldova.

There is no doubt that Maguire’s future for club and country is now shrouded in uncertainty and losing a place in the England squad will only make it harder for him to get back to where he should be, but he is in the middle of a remarkable downward spiral. .

Until the 79th minute of United’s Premier League victory over Aston Villa in May 2021, little had gone wrong for Maguire. In this game, he made his 72nd consecutive Premier League start for United and has played every minute of the previous 71 matches since his arrival from Leicester.

During the previous season, Maguire was a consistent fixture for United and England, amassing 5,490 continuous minutes in 61 games, making him the busiest player in world football in 2019/20. In doing so, he became the first United player since Gary Pallister in the 1994–95 season to play every minute in the Premier League in a season.

An ankle ligament injury sustained at Aston Villa forced him to miss the remainder of United’s season in May 2021. He missed the Europa League final defeat against Villarreal in Gdansk but returned to play at Euro 2020, missing the first two games against Croatia and Scotland.

However, while his reputation improved after Euro 2020, the positivity at United quickly evaporated. Maguire has suffered injuries, been sent off at Chelsea, played in humiliating defeats to Liverpool, Manchester City and Watford, and has seen defensive partners regularly change due to injury or teammates out of form.

Maguire became a lightning rod for fan frustration as the captain struggled to justify the armband or his position in the team, and the situation worsened to the point where he is now considered by many to be a central factor in United’s defensive problems. only stopped after Ten Hag dropped Maguire after a 4-0 thrashing at Brentford.

Did Ten Hag recognize the problem and resolve it by ditching Maguire in favor of a defensive partnership between Raphael Varane and Lisandro Martinez, or was Maguire just a victim of circumstance?

“Harry needs pace around him, but he didn’t have it,” a source close to Maguire told Sportzshala. “If we put [Man City’s] Ruben Diaz at United defense and Harry at City defender, Dias will struggle and Harry will thrive. Harry didn’t have a good 12 months, but the people around him didn’t help him – neither the coaches nor the players – so it’s inevitable that his confidence and form suffered.”

Sources said that Maguire’s dissatisfaction with goalkeeper David de Gea and his unwillingness to defend further from his goal line also contributed to a general defensive malaise last season. This problem was solved with the arrival of Argentine defender Martinez from Ajax and his ability to communicate with De Gea and give him directions in Spanish.

But despite all the extenuating circumstances surrounding Maguire’s out of form, United are now enjoying impressive success under Ten Hag, and the solidity of the defense has coincided with Maguire’s absence from the squad.

Since losing his seat, Maguire has only made 10 minutes in four Premier League matches – a brief break in a 3-1 win over Arsenal when he was booked for a foul within a minute of entering the game. It’s only 90 minutes after Brentford suffered a Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad.

Maguire needs games and time on the pitch to regain his form and confidence, so the international break is crucial for him.

But can Southgate risk playing out of form as a centre-back against elite opposition like Italy and Germany? And if Maguire plays, can he be ready?

The harsh reality for Maguire, however, is that his opportunities to play ahead of the World Cup will be limited, so if he doesn’t play for England this week, his prospects for starting in Qatar will quickly become as bleak as they are now. at Old Trafford.