Maguire vs Vardy reunion will be defining duel of the Premier League weekend… but it’s one Man Utd star could do without
Sept. 13, 2019
SLABHEAD versus Steptoe.
It promises to be the defining duel of the Premier League weekend - yet a meeting with Jamie Vardy is a reunion which Harry Maguire could well do without.
The extreme pace, striking instincts and sheer bloody nuisance value of an in-form Vardy will have been giving Manchester United ’s £85million centre-half some Friday the 13th nightmares last night.
The pair became close friends with Leicester and England - both Sheffield lads who’d trodden the hard yards to reach the top.
Vardy christened the big-bonced centre-half as ‘Slabhead’, with Maguire using the striker’s nickname of ‘Steptoe’ due to his resemblance to Harry H Corbett’s rag-and-bone man.
There won’t be resentment from Vardy over Maguire’s big-money deadline-week move from Leicester to United.
Elite footballers don’t think that way - and the popular Maguire is as far from a Billy Big Balls as you’ll find in the Premier League.
But an extra desire to embarrass a former colleague will be central to Vardy’s spiky mindset.
The title-winning striker is a living, breathing flame emoji right now. Since Brendan Rodgers took over as Leicester boss in February, he is the Premier League’s leading scorer with 12 goals from 15 appearances.
And since arriving in the top flight five years ago, Vardy has netted an impressive 34 league goals against ‘big six’ opposition.
This is no flat-track bully but a striker with an uncommon disrespect for lofty reputations.
While Maguire was suffering a difficult night in England’s manic 5-3 victory over Kosovo - conceding a penalty in a shaky defensive performance from the Three Lions - Vardy has been enjoying rest and relaxation.
At 32, his decision to retire from internationals - deeply regretted by Gareth Southgate - appears to have sharpened up the former non-league marksman.
His double against Bournemouth last time out - including one absolute gem - proved that we are witnessing the peak Vardy of 2015-16 again and Maguire will be well aware of it.
Maguire has not made a bad start to life at United on an individual level but three games without a win, against Wolves, Crystal Palace and Southampton, leaves Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men on the brink of a crisis.
Leicester, meanwhile, are unbeaten and hungry for a statement victory at Old Trafford which would underline their top-four candidacy.
With United and the three big London clubs all looking vulnerable, the Foxes know the door to the henhouse is open this season - but now they must prove it.
Leicester ought to have won at Chelsea last month, where they dominated for the last hour and drew 1-1.
And Rodgers, with his extreme positivity, will have them believing that a United team without Paul Pogba, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw, are very much beatable.
Marcus Rashford will deputise in the central role for Martial but he does not possess the ruthlessness or confidence of Vardy in front of goal.
In defence, United believe they have built a back four for the long term, when all fit, in Aaron Wan Bissaka, Maguire, Victor Lindelof and Shaw.
And while Maguire clearly has an error in him and is susceptible to pace, it did not sound like typical Solskjaer soft-soaping when he suggested his new defender could be a future United captain.
He said: “He's definitely a character and personality that can be captain of a big club.
“He's a leader in performances, stature and behaviour, he's a character you'd like to follow. Some are technical leaders, some are leaders by voice, he's got the lot.”
Maguire is certainly a vocal presence on and off the field - after the disappointing 1-1 draw at Southampton a fortnight ago he chided his new team-mates for a lack of ‘arrogance’ on the ball.
They were not the words of a nervous new boy but of a senior pro who has recognised a leadership vacuum and is determined to fill it.
A confident performance against his old team-mates today would add to that air of authority.
But as old man Steptoe’s footsteps approach Old Trafford, there’s a scent of burning leather boots in the air.