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Talking Tactics: Centre-back clarity is boosting Red Devils' defence
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Will Evans
LiveScore
Manchester United's Harry Maguire is experiencing a renaissance at Old Trafford
Manchester United's Harry Maguire is experiencing a renaissance at Old Trafford

Erik ten Hag has made some surprising centre-back selections this season.

Few would have expected Harry Maguire to be keeping Raphael Varane out of Manchester United's first XI back in August, while regular minutes for Victor Lindelof and veteran Jonny Evans has also raised eyebrows.

But the Red Devils boss will have felt a sense of vindication following consecutive Premier League clean sheets for the first time this term.

Ahead of today's trip to Everton, we analyse the state of play in United's backline.

Varane not the man

Perhaps the most surprising omission from Manchester United's regular starting line-up is Varane.

The 30-year-old has amassed an array of honours throughout his career, having won the World Cup with France and 18 trophies with former club Real Madrid — including four Champions League triumphs.

But he cannot break into the United team this season, despite being hailed as the solution to their defensive problems upon his arrival in 2021.

That is partly because of Ten Hag's preference for playing a left-footed player in the left-sided centre-back role.

Speaking earlier this month, he said: "The build-up is not that fluid when one of them [Varane or Maguire] is playing from the left centre-half position.

"Licha [Martinez] and Luke Shaw [are left-footed], obviously. Jonny Evans and Victor Lindelof are right-footed but they can play really comfortably from the left and they can make the right angles. Then you can construct a better formation where you can start to play."

This tactical preference leaves Varane and Maguire competing for one spot in United's rearguard, with the Englishman currently winning that battle.

Maguire comeback

Maguire's days at Old Trafford looked to be numbered in the summer — but he is enjoying a surprising resurgence for the Red Devils.

The Sheffield native has now started United's last five Premier League matches and has largely impressed.

His distribution has been particularly eye-catching, having completed the third-most long passes per 90 minutes in England's top flight (8.13) ahead of this weekend.

And Maguire's aerial prowess means he ranks inside the division's top 10 players for headed clearances (3.03) and aerial duels won (4.16) per 90 following Matchday 12.

Manchester United defender Harry Maguire is a commanding presence in the air
Manchester United defender Harry Maguire is a commanding presence in the air

Those numbers help to explain why the 30-year-old has edged ahead of Varane in the pecking order, as Ten Hag alluded to before his side's 1-0 victory over Luton.

He said: "Last year, Harry didn't play a lot. I was very happy with Rapha's performance and I have always been happy with his performance.

"But in this moment, Harry is playing very good. There is internal competition."

All change in January?

France international Jean-Clair Todibo could be set for a January switch to Manchester United
France international Jean-Clair Todibo could be set for a January switch to Manchester United

Maguire has been paired with both Lindelof and his former Leicester team-mate Evans in United's previous two league outings.

The Red Devils shut out Fulham and Luton in 1-0 wins, though tougher tests are undoubtedly on the horizon.

And with star centre-back Lisandro Martinez out for an extended period following surgery on a metatarsal injury, the club may look to enter the transfer market in January.

Nice's Jean-Clair Todibo is one name frequently linked with a move to Old Trafford — but whoever arrives in M16 could create another defensive conundrum for Ten Hag to solve.

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