Man Utd's central defensive partnership is a dream on paper but will be giving Rangnick nightmares after Newcastle flop

Man Utd's central defensive partnership is a dream on paper but will be giving Rangnick nightmares after Newcastle flop

December 27, 2021

ON PAPER, Manchester United’s central defensive partnership should be the least of Ralf Rangnick’s problems.

An £80million England international who helped his country to a major final in the summer and a French World Cup winner with four Champions League titles to his name.

But right now, Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane are an enigma that United’s interim German coach is in desperate need of finding a solution to.

The return of Varane, 28, to the starting line-up after picking up a hamstring injury back on November 2 was deemed a big plus with Victor Lindelof was ruled out with a positive Covid test.

But his performance alongside Maguire in an abysmal result away to Newcastle just proves how far United still have to go to reach their historic heights of yesteryear.

Edinson Cavani bailed his defenders out with an equaliser – but in truth the Magpies should have made Maguire and Varane pay for multiple offences in front of their own goal to seriously pile the pressure on.

They may have taken the Sports Direct signs down from St James’ Park, but Maguire and Varane looked like a pair of budget purchases.

All the talk pre-match was about Eddie Howe’s Toon and their woeful record at the back – a league-high 41 let in so far and stats no better than predecessor Steve Bruce.

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Ironically, ex-Red Devils captain and centre back Bruce, 60, could have put in a better performance at the back last night for Rangnick’s underperforming United.

Both Maguire and Varane were a bag of nerves, stumbling and fumbling over every decision, frightened and fragile against any opponent, clueless and calamitous on and off the ball.

Allan Saint-Maximin’s seventh minute opener was the first goal conceded of the Rangnick era – and what a shambles of a goal it was.

The two clean sheets against Crystal Palace and Norwich before their 16-day fixture-gap were most certainly false indicators of progress after letting in bundles under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Varane was shoved off the ball by Sean Longstaff before Saint-Maximin was allowed to cut inside by Maguire and dig out a shot past David De Gea.

That theme continued as Callum Wilson powered Maguire off the ball in his own box and doubled Newcastle’s lead only for the offside flag to save the United skipper’s blushes.

The best part of Maguire’s night was the relief as Wilson was forced off before the break with an injury. Varane meanwhile will have nightmares about Saint-Maximin for weeks.

Varane was at fault again after the break as he lost sight of Saint-Maximin who should have made it 2-0 only to scuff his effort with the goal gaping from two yards.

This is a Newcastle team with just 18 goals to their name before this one, and only one in their last three, conceding 11 in the process.

United – with the help of the non-dynamic duo Maguire and Varane – made them look like world beaters all over the park.

Even the likes of Joelinton, Jacob Murphy and Miguel Almiron found the confidence to have pot shots from range in search of a winner, such was the complete lack of pressure and intimidation in front of him.

Maguire combatted his poor performance by complaining towards the officials and his own teammates at every turn, leading to Gary Neville describing his old club at half time as “whinge-bags”.

That phrase may be lost in translation for the Godfather of German football Rangnick.

But even he can see his biggest issue lies at the heart of a self-destructive defence.

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