On Saturday afternoon, Manchester City welcome Hull City to the Etihad Stadium in what could be a potential banana skin for Pep Guardiola’s team on the march for a place in the top four this season.
Before the arrival of Marco Silva at the start of January, the Tigers had won just three Premier League games, two of them coming in the opening fortnight of the campaign.
The Portuguese coach has guided his new team to five wins in the league, an FA Cup victory over Swansea City and despite being knocked out 3-2 on aggregate by Manchester United, the Humberside club recorded a EFL Cup win over Jose Mourinho’s side at the KC Stadium.
One of the biggest recipients of Silva’s methods has been former Sheffield United centre-back, Harry Maguire. The 23-year-old, although the team has still been conceding, has managed to show that he is very capable of stepping up at this level and performances against United and Chelsea this season showed all the strengths you would want in the Premier League defender.
There will be an interesting contest on Saturday as Maguire takes on City’s 22-year-old centre-back, John Stones. Both young defenders who hail from Yorkshire, actually have very similar styles, but as the former Everton man is derided and constantly criticised for his pass first, possession based methods – something Guardiola demands from his centre-backs.
According to WhoScored, Maguire is one of the best in his position, with their ratings system including him in the Team of 2017, ahead of Stones.
When Gareth Southgate recently picked his first England squad and called up Michael Keane and Ben Gibson, there were many who believed the Hull City defender was somewhat overlooked.
How has Harry Maguire developed?
Born in Sheffield, he had a spell in Barnsley’s Under-18s before joining the Blades in 2009. Maguire would go on to play 165 times for the Steel City club before joining Wigan Athletic.
In League One, he had shown has composure and ability on the ball. Eager to push out of defence, playing beside the more rugged Neill Collins, Maguire was the playmaker from deep.
At Hull, he has grown and developed into a very complete young defender. Despite his young age, he looks like a weathered 35-year-old veteran.
He’s commanding, instructing players like Michael Dawson and Tom Huddleston where they should be, organising the defence.
Huddlestone is suspended for Saturday's game, so Silva is likely to go 5-4-1, with Maguire controlling the middle of the park.
Now, within Silva’s passing style, Hull City are pinging the ball around the pitch and Maguire is always eager to get in possession, often driving the ball into the opponents half.
Without the ball, he is eager to close down the space, letting the centre-forwards know he’s there, but fairly and physically he is up for every challenge.
“Marco and his staff work tirelessly every single day – he lives for football,” Maguire said at the weekend. “His knowledge of the game is second to none, and he’s a great coach. All of the boys look forward to training day in, day out and the atmosphere within the camp is fantastic. It’s a great place to be at the moment.”
“Everyone has bought into his methods and I think the improvement in the team is clear for all to see, especially at home.
It’s not too far-fetched to suggest that similar to what he has done under Silva, Maguire is the type of player that would suit Guardiola’s system.
John Stones versus Harry Maguire
Read More: John Stones Key to Pep Guardiola's Plan
This season, Maguire is committing more fouls per 90 minutes than his opponent, but with less possession and more teams able to attack at Hull’s back-line, this is to be somewhat expected.
The Hull City man wins in terms of aerial duels won, interceptions and blocked shots. Maguire has 5.39 clearances per 90 compared to Stones at 4.87. City’s summer signing, one of the most expensive defenders of all time, makes 0.84 tackles per 90, which is excellent – the lower the better for centre-backs, with Maguire at 1.7.
Stones, as expected, makes more passes, at 63.67, completing an excellent 92 per cent, whereas Maguire completes 76 per cent of his 43.53 attempts. With more possession, better options and control as a team, it’s not too far-fetched to think that Maguire could match those numbers. He always averages a longer pass length, which brings more risk to his balls out from the back.
Defenders in Guardiola’s mould have to measure their risk/reward ration and as he completes 0.89 takes ons per 90, Stones is one of the best at pushing the ball out of defence, but Maguire beats the 22-year-old in this area, completing 0.95 per 90. An amazing return for someone playing in a relegation threatened team. Numbers that high are usually reserved for full-backs. Demonstrating a new breed of central defenders.
Both still have a lot to learn, but it’s Stones, constantly in the spotlight, that picks up the most critics, however, his Spanish coach obviously believes in him, and he’s looking to rise above any negativity:
“Criticism is always going to be harsh, so you have just got to take it in your stride and worry about yourself,” Stones was quoted as saying in the Manchester Evening News.
“Obviously the one-on-one with Falcao, I could have done a lot better with,” he admitted after the 5-3 win over Monaco in the Champions League. “I will try hard in training to work on it. I think there was a bit of an element of luck involved in it, but that is what happens sometimes.”
With older and suspect defenders on either side of Stones on the flank, plus the inconsistency over who will partner the 22-year-old in the City defence, there is a lot more responsibility over his contribution at the back.
Bacary Sagna is out injured for Saturday's game, so Pablo Zabaleta should come into the team, although Fernandinho could play on either of the full-back positions.
Given another summer to shape his squad, Stones should have the support he needs on the field, as well as Guardiola’s guidance off it.
“It works harshly against me, but there are a lot of things I will look at over and over again and see how I can improve. I think apart from that [his slip], we were quite solid and defended quite well except conceding three goals.”
Maguire’s Evolution as a Defender
It is interesting to see how Maguire has developed so quickly under the guidance of Silva. The 23-year-old is making more fouls, but he has massively dropped the amount of tackles he makes per 90, from 2.44 to 1.01 since the new boss took over on January 5th.
Maguire wins more in the air, makes more interceptions and has always improved in terms of clearances, the amount of passes he makes and most importantly his completion percentage.
Manchester City favourites on Saturday
Few will give Hull City chance of going to the Etihad on Saturday and picking up a result, but they have shown they can trouble the best teams in the league since Silva arrived.
In their last nine games, since winning a point at Old Trafford, the Tigers have won four times, scoring 12 times and conceding 14 – with four of them coming in the 4-0 defeat to Everton.
It’s a dangerous tie for City, considering they have also only won four of their last nine league fixtures. Guardiola’s team has scored 16 and conceded eight. That suggests it should be a home win, but far from a given. If Maguire puts in the level of performance that he has against the other big clubs, it would solidify his standing as one of England’s best young defenders and perhaps give Hull an unexpected boost in their survival hopes.