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David Meyler: It's been a difficult time for Harry Maguire but I've no doubt he'll bounce back

In this week’s column, the Corkman speaks about a former team-mate and gives his predictions for Villa-Leeds.

Harry Maguire alongside Newcastle United's Jeff Hendrick during last weekend's Premier League encounter.
Harry Maguire alongside Newcastle United's Jeff Hendrick during last weekend's Premier League encounter.
Image: PA

EX-IRELAND INTERNATIONAL David Meyler has joined The42 as our new football columnist for this season.

Every Friday, the former Hull City and Sunderland midfielder will give expert insight and his predictions ahead of the weekend’s Premier League action, alongside the latest William Hill prices. 

In his second column, he discusses a difficult start to the campaign for Manchester United captain Harry Maguire, as well as high-flying Aston Villa’s meeting with newly-promoted Leeds United. 

Meyler WH banner

Man United v Chelsea, 5.30pm Saturday 

I was playing for Hull City when we met Sheffield United in the 2014 FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

While doing our research on the opposition, we were told to leave their young centre-half, Harry Maguire, with the ball and allow him to bring it out from the back.

We thought ‘fair enough’, as this was the analysis that had been done for us, but Harry didn’t just dribble out of defence — he started taking it past our midfielders. This guy was so comfortable and it frustrated us on the day, although we did go on to claim an unforgettable 5-3 win and book our place in the final.

Off the back of that performance, Hull ended up signing him three months later. He barely played in the first season and went out on loan to Wigan Athletic, so we began to wonder if he would ever get a chance.

It took a bit longer than expected, but he was eventually given his opportunity and I saw enough of him to know that he had the qualities to go on and play at a top club.

Under Marco Silva, Harry really established himself as a mainstay at centre-back. He was terrific for us and earned a move to Leicester, where he came into his own playing alongside Wes Morgan, and later, Jonny Evans.

I remember Gareth Southgate left Chris Smalling out of the England squad in November 2017, stating he wanted ball-playing centre-halves. At the time, I turned to my dad and said ‘Harry Maguire will start at the World Cup next year’. My dad didn’t agree but replied ‘Okay, we’ll see’. I just felt he was very comfortable with the ball at his feet.

hull-city-v-sheffield-wednesday-sky-bet-championship-play-off-final-wembley-stadium Meyler (centre) with Maguire (far left) and the Hull City players after winning Premier League promotion via the Championship play-off final at Wembley in 2016. Source: Nick Potts

Harry had a great season for Leicester that year, playing 44 games in all competitions as they finished ninth in the Premier League. When the 2018 World Cup came around, he was tremendous for England — producing some brilliant performances and a vital goal against Sweden.

Of course, there were question marks around the quality of teams they overcame on the way to the semi-finals, but those displays in Russia really put him on the map. The big clubs began to take an interest and he joined Man United for £80 million (€87m).

A lot was made of the price tag and the fact that he had become the world’s most expensive defender, but transfer fees are irrelevant to me as you’re only worth what someone is willing to pay for you. Man United are going through a bit of a transition period under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and he put a lot of faith into Harry by making him captain.

We’re all fully aware of the incident in Greece over the summer, and the negative media attention that has brought will undoubtedly have had a knock-on effect.

In relation to what he is alleged to have said, that’s not Harry. He’s a quiet lad off the pitch, and is very family-orientated. He was over there with his entire family, it wasn’t as if he was on a lads’ holiday. I just think he got caught in the wrong place at the wrong time.

I obviously wasn’t there but from hearing him speak about it, I would certainly take what he said at face value.

Since then, his performances haven’t been at a level that is required to play for Man United. He also went away on international duty and had a tough time with the red card against Denmark. We live in an age of social media where people are quick to judge, and as captain of one of the biggest clubs in the world he must deal with the criticism.

Harry played well against Newcastle last weekend, scoring a goal, and he has to build on that. He will be disappointed to have missed a massive win over Paris Saint-Germain on Tuesday through injury. He now needs to get himself right mentality to hit the levels that he knows he can, and I have no doubt he will.

We’ve seen Man United’s defence making its fair share of mistakes in recent times, but they worked really well together as a unit against last season’s beaten finalists, with Axel Tuanzebe filling in remarkably well considering it was his first game in 10 months.

That said, I’d have Maguire straight back into the team for Saturday’s game against Chelsea if he is fit to play. As fantastic as Tuanzebe was marshalling Kylian Mbappe and Neymar, Maguire is the club captain and should return.

Following a mixed start to life at Chelsea, Thiago Silva was lauded by Frank Lampard for the shift he put in during the 0-0 draw with Sevilla on Tuesday night. They have had to integrate a number of signings into the team with Ben Chilwell also added at the back. Then you’ve got Kai Havertz and Hakim Ziyech in attack as well as Timo Werner, a proven goalscorer who now appears to be settling in.

This should be an interesting match up. Chelsea showed resilience in midweek without being a massive threat going forward. Returning to league action, I’d imagine it will be a much more open game at Old Trafford.

United will look to build on their display against PSG and I expect them to win — let’s go with 2-1.

Aston Villa v Leeds United, 8pm Friday 

Aston Villa have enjoyed quite the start — four wins from four. Beating the drop on the final day of last season was the turning point for me. There was a short break and I’d imagine a conversation was had between the management and players to ensure they didn’t find themselves in a similar situation again.

They will have taken confidence from beating Sheffield United, Fulham and Leicester City, but the big one was unquestionably the 7-2 win over current champions Liverpool. It wasn’t just the result but the manner of performance and the fact they stuck to the gameplan that impressed me.

aston-villa-v-liverpool-premier-league-villa-park Villa trio Ollie Watkins, Ross Barkley and Jack Grealish. Source: PA

Dean Smith has recruited very well by bringing in Arsenal goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez, Chelsea midfielder Ross Barkley on loan and Ollie Watkins from Brentford.

I raised questions when Watkins was signed for a fee of £28m (€30m), which could rise to £33m (€36m). In the past, we’ve seen Premier League clubs throw money at players in a desperate attempt to stave off relegation, but I don’t think that’s the case now. These signings have been well thought out, and you could see many of the squad sticking around in the worst case scenario that they were relegated.

When you have someone with that wow factor like Jack Grealish, then you’ve always got a chance and Barkley can take the pressure off him by chipping in with goals and assists. I know they’re really good friends and they can drive each other on.

However, they face a Leeds team who have been a breath of fresh air on Friday evening. Playing in a unique system, their energy and fitness levels have been through the roof. The distance they cover is incredible. 

I played for Hull City and Leeds are a rival, but it’s good to see them back and their style of play has been a positive for the Premier League. If I was to call it, I’d say Leeds will win 2-0.

William Hill odds above correct at the time of writing. New online customers get €30 in free bets when they bet €10 with William Hill. Just use the promo code P30. For all the latest prices, visit williamhill.com. 18+, always gamble responsibly. For more information, see BeGambleAware.org

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