Manchester United captain Harry Maguire has been labelled “phenomenal” and “fantastic” by Red Devils hero Lee Sharpe.
Maguire, 27, ended a turbulent 2020 on a high, leading United on a nine-match unbeaten run in the Premier League.
The Red Devils started the new year in similar fashion, digging deep to overcome Aston Villa 2-1 on Friday to go level on points with league-leaders Liverpool.
It was a welcome run of form for England star Maguire, who had drawn heavy criticism from pundits during a poor spell for club and country earlier in the season, which followed his arrest in Mykonos, Greece last August.
Sharpe is not surprised to see Maguire performing well and claims the defender is living up to expectations following his £80million move to United in 2019.
“I think what happened in the summer on his holidays has spilled over a little bit,” Sharpe told Stadium Astro of Maguire.
“I think he’s had a couple of not so good games and people have picked up on it.
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“But I think the consistency levels since he got to United have been phenomenal.
“He has shored up the defence, he reads the game really well, he can play. You can tell that as a kid he was more of a midfielder than a defender because he’s more of a footballer than just a stopper.
“I think he has been fantastic for the club. Criticism is a bit harsh.”
The former Red Devils winger added: “You go and play for a club like Manchester United, who are one of the biggest in the world, it’s part of the territory. You have to take the criticism.
“You are there to be shot at, but no-one generally criticises you more than yourself. I think he has handled things well.
“It’s a difficult place to go. Stepping up from any club to go to Manchester United is difficult and I think he’s handled it with class.”
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Manchester United and Manchester City players made headlines for their behaviour after the final whistle at the weekend.
The two local rivals played out a 0-0 bore draw at Old Trafford before plenty of hugs and pleasantries after the final whistle.
Former United captain Roy Keane slammed players from both sides for their behaviour after the game – and United legend Rio Ferdinand has now agreed with his sentiment.
Captain Harry Maguire was amongst those pictured embracing opposite number John Stones, seemingly with no repercussions.
Ferdinand admitted he would have intervened if any team-mates behaved in such a friendly manner towards their arch rivals.
He also told a story of Sir Alex Ferguson’s rage after his first Manchester Derby after striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy swapped shirts with a City player.
And he suggested the legendary former manager would have had stern words for the likes of Maguire after their behaviour.
Ferdinand told FIVE : “Boring Manchester derby. Normally there’s pushing and shoving, normally there’s some needle in the game, some goals. This was just a 0-0 borefest, and at the end hugs all around.
“I think it’s been well documented on social media. Listen, the new generation are different, we can’t expect them to be the same as the way we were. We weren’t hugging and kissing, no Man City players or Liverpool players when we were playing because it was just a mad rivalry.
“Didn’t like them, didn’t like being at their stadium for longer than we needed to be, didn’t want to bump into any City fans during the week or after and the players, we were amicable.I get on with Joleon Lescott, Vinny Kompany among others, Joe Hart, Gareth Barry, all players who played for Man City at the time.
“But during the time we weren’t close and hugs wouldn’t have been part of what we were doing. A good shake of the hand, ‘how are you doing mate’ with a grimace. There was an undertone there because we were rivals, it’s as simple as that.
“I don’t understand, I don’t get the hugging really. It’s not something I’ve done, I would’ve been on people for doing it. But I understand this generation are different.
“I’ll never forget, and this is what needs to happen. When I played for Man Utd, the first Manchester Derby I played in was at Maine Road, the old Man City stadium.
“We got beat 3-1 I think, Goater scored a couple and they beat us. Coming into the changing room I could feel it, I could sense the atmosphere. Sat down, Ruud Van Nistelrooy walks in with a Man City shirt. He’d swapped a shirt.
“Sir Alex Ferguson went off his head, he went nuts. He didn’t go red, he went purple. He went mad. He absolutely flipped, ‘don’t you ever come into a changing room after a derby with a shirt of theirs. Ever, don’t bring one in this changing room’.
“From that moment I knew. I had the feeling before, but I was in no uncertain terms after I left the changing room that day that hugs and kisses, swapping shirts don’t happen in Man Utd vs Man City.
“That’s the way that I was shown at the beginning and that’s the way I continued. The question is now, is that the law being laid down now by the people that are there?
“Is there someone looking at a picture of the captain hugging one of their players? They might be mates, that’s fair, that’s fine, but is there someone in there saying, ‘listen, we don’t do that in here, what are you doing?’
“Who is that person telling him that? That’s the difference.”
England saw off Iceland in a comfortable victory at Wembley on Wednesday to round off their Nations League campaign.
The fixture was essentially a dead rubber, with England already unable to progress to the finals of the competition.
But Gareth Southgate still used the run-out to good effect, fielding a strong side who looked on course for a win from as early as the 24th minute.
Declan Rice had opened the scoring not long before that, glancing Phil Foden’s free-kick into the far corner after Jack Grealish had been fouled.
Mason Mount then doubled the Three Lions’ advantage to put them in command, reacting quickly inside the box to skip past one defender and slide the ball past the keeper.
Foden then added two goals for himself late on, turning in Jadon Sancho’s cut back before then firing a low shot in from the edge of the box.
Here are the talking points.
1. Southgate given food for thought
It’s not been the easiest few months for the England boss, but he will have seen plenty of positives to take from their final fixture as England cruised to victory to end an otherwise testing Nations League campaign on a high.
The fact they done so without the likes of Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford and Jordan Henderson and others is testament to the strength in depth in England’s squad.
Southgate now has a ream of options at his disposal, many of whom staked a real claim for a regular spot going forward.
Iceland are by no means a good side, but England produced a professional display, and could have finished with seven or eight goals.
Lots to think about before the next international meeting next year.
2. Marvellous Mount
Plenty of talk over the last week has revolved around England stars defending Mount’s place in the side.
On the evidence on show against Iceland, it is doubtful they will have to do so again at the next international break.
Mount was superb in one of the central midfield roles, though largely left Rice to the defensive duties as he pushed high up the field when England were in possession to provide a constant threat.
His goal may have been somewhat fortuitous, falling nicely for him to sidestep the defender, but Mount had been involved heavily in the build-up – which was a fair reflection of his decent night’s work.
3. Foden back in the fold
Phil Foden was given a chance to make amends against Iceland, having been sent home from the Three Lions camp after the last fixture between the teams.
The Man City midfielder was left out of the last squad due to the debacle in Reykjavik, but made his second start for his country.
He didn’t take long to make his mark, either, swinging in a free-kick onto the head of Rice to put England ahead.
It was only for Iceland keeper Ogmundur Kristinsson that Foden didn’t get on the scoresheet himself in the first half; but he finally had his moment towards the finish, scoring twice to turn England’s win into a rout.
Foden’s link-up play was the real plus point for Southgate though, as he consistently showed for the ball, and connected intricately with Mount and Grealish to keep England ticking.
Overall a performance to put him firmly back into regular contention.
4. Grealish must play
Three months ago Jack Grealish only got into England’s squad for the first time because of an injury to Rashford.
But after three impressive performances on the bounce he has become virtually undroppable.
The Aston Villa skipper oozes confidence and looks dangerously unpredictable every time he gets on the ball; popping up in space all over the pitch, driving forward with purpose, creating chances.
Before this international break questions were raised on how Gareth Southgate can fit him into his XI.
Now he should be one of the first names on the teamsheet.
5. Maguire an asset in attack
A right-footed player on the left of a back three looks awkward. And it is. Which is not Harry Maguire’s fault, per se.
No doubt he would rather be occupying the same role on the opposite flank with his favoured right boot.
Yes he plays on the left-hand side as part of a two for United. But it’s not exactly natural.
Yet, somehow, against Iceland at least, it worked.
Maguire spent much of the first-half bursting into the opposition’s third, joining the attack, and zipping punchy passes into his teammates in good areas.
One cross-field pass to Tripper was Beckham-esque, while Foden should have scored from Maguire’s slicing through ball – and there was even an overlap from the big centre-half at one stage.
Southgate’s still got to work out his favoured back line ahead of the Euros, but he may well have sorted two out of three.
Harry Maguire was given the captain’s armband, scored England’s opener and put in another towering performance.
It was hard to believe that five weeks ago, Maguire was sent off before half time against Denmark, looked a broken man and his form for club and country was under the spotlight.
Manchester United captain Maguire was at his lowest ebb, a nightmare summer looked to have caught up with him and yet his strength of character has guided him out the other side.
This felt like a practice match for England at times but it was still a morale-boosting night for Maguire and Gareth Southgate deserves a lot of credit for his part in the defender’s recovery.
Southgate never wavered, gave him his full backing even after last month’s sending-off against Wales and it was a proud moment when he pulled him aside on the morning of the match to make him captain.
That is clever, shrewd and excellent man management of a player who has rarely let England down and, even at Goodison Park last Saturday, you could see the old Maguire had returned.
Maguire sat in the middle of the back three, exuded confidence and has played his way through his problems and England looked in cruise control.
Jack Grealish was superb again, tricking and dazzling his way through midfield to only increase the clamour for him to start in England’s competitive fixtures. How the Republic of Ireland must curse seeing him play for England as another one that got away.
Harry Winks was excellent in midfield, provided an assist and quality with his passing while Jadon Sancho’s finish was terrific and there was a wonderful moment for Borussia Dortmund wonderkid Jude Bellingham.
Bellingham, who is 17 years and 137 days old, became the third youngest player to represent England after Theo Walcott, aged 17 years 75 days, and Wayne Rooney – 17 years 111 days. The amazing thing was that Bellingham came on after 73 minutes and immediately looked at home.
It was an easy victory against a very average looking Republic of Ireland side and a world away from the battles in World Cups and European Championships but now they look on a different level, England’s Premier League quality against a lot of Championship players.
That is the cold, hard truth for Ireland who appear to be going backwards while England showed they have strength in depth and even the back-up players are now pushing their claims.
England were always going to win this from the moment they went ahead after just 18 minutes as Mason Mount’s corner was half cleared, Winks put the ball back into the box with a lovely cross and Maguire climbed above Shane Duffy to head home.
Maguire could have got another but for a smart save from Darren Randolph, Bukayo Saka went close and Dominic Calvert-Lewin was denied by a block as England took charge.
They got a second after 31 minutes when Grealish, a livelier in midfield again, found Sancho and the Borussia Dortmund was given way too much space to jink and then find the bottom corner with a low shot.
The changes began to feel like rolling subs in the second half as Dean Henderson came on for Nick Pope in goal and then England got another after 56 minutes.
This time, Saka tricked his way down the left, Ireland’s right back Cyrus Christie stuck out a clumsy leg and it was a gift of a penalty.
Up stepped Calvert-Lewin to smash home a penalty into the top corner as the Everton striker’s wonderful confidence shone through as Harry Kane looked on from the stands.
This was not much of a test, more of an opportunity and also the feel of redemption at least for Maguire.
England were just too good for the Republic of Ireland as Gareth Southgate’s men recorded a comfortable 3-0 friendly win at Wembley.
The hosts took the lead on 18 minutes as Harry Maguire headed home from Harry Winks’ delicious cross.
And it was 2-0 just after the half-an-hour mark as Jadon Sancho cut inside from the left and fired a low shot into the bottom-right hand corner.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin got his second England goal when he converted from the spot ten minutes after half-time to round off the scoring on a thoroughly satisfactory night for the home side.
The Three Lions are next in action when they take on Belgium in the Nations League on Sunday, while Ireland face Wales on the same day.
Here are five talking points from England’s convincing victory…
Maguire redemption continues
What a difference a month can make.
Maguire’s last outing in an England shirt came to a premature end after just 31 minutes when the Manchester United defender was sent off in the 1-0 defeat to Denmark in October.
It capped off what had been a miserable spell for the 27-year-old, with things so bad that there were suggestions he should take a break from football to clear his head following his turbulent time off the pitch.
Yet to his eternal credit Maguire has battled back from that difficult period ever since, with his performances for United vastly improving recently.
He was handed the captain’s armband for his country for the first time tonight and put in an assured showing, with a great header to give his side the lead and a decent display at the back showing all his best qualities.
Here’s hoping Maguire has now put his nightmare few months behind him once and for all and will continue his redemption.
Why not Grealish AND Mount?
Much of the build-up to the game centred around who of Jack Grealish or Mason Mount would be selected in the starting line-up.
Yet in the end both players made the cut in Southgate’s 11, with Grealish out wide and Mount occupying the central position in the 3-4-3 formation.
Both looked bright throughout, with Grealish constantly threatening on the flanks and setting up England’s second goal and Mount tidy in possession and dangerous with set-pieces.
In games against inferior opposition, there is no reason why the two cannot play in the same team, and they provide plenty of food for thought going forward, especially when England need to break down a stubborn defence.
Mings shines on and off pitch
Tyrone Mings came out with a huge amount of credit for the way he dealt with the press in the fallout to Greg Clarke’s resignation as FA chairman on Tuesday.
But he let his football do the talking tonight, with the Aston Villa man again faultless in an England shirt.
While he wasn’t particularly troubled by a toothless Irish attack, he was composed in possession and vocal in barking out orders to his teammates.
The injury to Joe Gomez means Mings may well be given even more minutes in an England shirt going forward.
And the way things are going for him both on and off the pitch it would be no surprise to see Mings become a first-choice pick in the centre of defence by the time the Euros roll around next summer.
Calvert-Lewin taking lessons from Kane
Whisper it quietly… but Calvert-Lewin is looking more and more similar to Harry Kane every day.
The Everton forward was a constant handful again tonight, and when Bukayo Saka was brought down in the box he made it very clear to everybody that he would be the man to take the spot-kick.
Even his technique for the penalty resembled Kane, with a little stutter before he thumped it into the top corner to make it 3-0.
It’s easy to remember Kane was a late bloomer, and only really hit his clinical best following loan spells in the lower levels – similar to Calvert-Lewin.
With Calvert-Lewin now 23 and in the form of his life, could he follow in the Tottenham man’s footsteps?
Bellingham makes bow
Jude Bellingham became the third-youngest man ever to play for England when he came off the bench with 20 minutes to go.
At just 17 years and 137 days old, it is fair to say the Dortmund star has a pretty exciting career ahead of him, and he certainly didn’t seem overawed by the occasion tonight.
Bellingham slotted into midfield and looked confident with the ball at his feet, and couldn’t have asked for a more comfortable debut.
It would be fascinating to see Southgate give him some more minutes against Belgium or Iceland, but even if he doesn’t this was surely just the first of many, many caps for Bellingham.