Manchester United fans know better than anyone just how integral Harry Maguire can be to a team. We found out, painfully, in Gdansk. In the club’s biggest match since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became manager, the captain’s brave, prompting presence was sorely missed. When it matters most, you want Maguire in your team. But England should have enough to get through Saturday night’s game against Ukraine with Tyrone Mings reinstalled at centre-back.
Of course, a team with England’s record at international tournaments should not be taking a quarter-final lightly. This, after all, is a nation that was famously defeated by Iceland at the last edition of the tournament. But the Three Lions have already beaten a strong Croatia team without Maguire in the opening match and, as the Europa League final, proved, it’s in the biggest matches of all that Harry’s leadership and mental fortitude are most valuable. Ukraine finished third in their group, and have won just one of their four games so far inside 90 minutes. So I think this is the time for Gareth Southgate to be brave, take a long-term view, and use his amply stocked squad.
If they make the semi-finals, England will have to overcome a hurdle they’ve failed to jump on three occasions at major tournaments since their famous World Cup win in 1966. Maguire’s absence would be a huge loss from both a footballing perspective and a psychological one. There’s also Harry’s injury to consider: he’s only just returned from a problematic ankle complaint, and tournaments are unrelenting, with games every few days. Southgate should trust the other defenders to get the job done against Ukraine, and protect arguably the most influential player in his first-choice XI. The focus should be plotting a route towards winning the whole tournament, not merely reaching the last four.