Harry Maguire will report for England duty next week re-established as a first-choice defender for Manchester United.
When Gareth Southgate’s squad met up in October Maguire had made only two starts for Erik ten Hag’s side all season but he has been ever-present in the starting XI since, usually in a partnership with veteran Jonny Evans as Raphael Varane and Victor Lindelof have had to bide their time.
Maguire and Evans is not a pairing many would have seen coming in the summer, when Maguire was being linked with a move away from Old Trafford and Evans was a free agent after leaving relegated Leicester.
An injury to Evans will see a change made when Luton visit on Saturday, but Ten Hag said Maguire was keeping former Real Madrid defender Varane, a key part of last season’s success, out on merit.
“Harry Maguire is doing very well at the moment, and I am very happy with that,” he said. “As I always said, Harry Maguire can do the job — and now he is showing he can do the job.
“Last year Harry didn’t play a lot, so I was very happy with Rapha’s performances. I have always been happy with his performance. But in this moment, Harry is playing very well and there is internal competition.”
Ten Hag sees Maguire and Varane as being in direct competition for the right side of central defence. Although Maguire has spent much of his career on the left, Ten Hag does not like the balance of his side with the 30-year-old there.
“There are moments in certain games where they can play together and they have already proven they can do it,” he said. “But the build-up is not that fluid when one of them is playing from the left.”
Last season, the partnership Varane formed with Lisandro Martinez, protected by Casemiro, helped United win the Carabao Cup and return to the Champions League. But with Martinez and Casemiro currently out injured along with Luke Shaw, and Varane out of favour, there is a different look at present.
“The injuries don’t help us,” Ten Hag said. “So often you have to swap the back four and then you don’t get the routine. In such moments, it is so important to have routines.
“We had a new keeper (Andre Onana) coming in and every time you form a new back four and they know the rules and principles, but the routines are not the same.
“Communication is so important, but that is all split-second decisions. You need that cooperation and you need it 100 per cent because when it doesn’t work, then you concede goals at this level.”
Wednesday’s dramatic 4-3 Champions League defeat in Copenhagen made it nine defeats from 17 games in all competitions for United this season, piling the pressure on Ten Hag amid on the ongoing wait for Sir Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of a minority stake in the club to be completed.
“Nothing has changed (in our approach),” Ten Hag added. “We stay in the same issues because we are not in the best moment, but I think I see that we are going forward, like at Fulham (a 1-0 win last weekend), and I thought Copenhagen was a very good game and we have to build on that.
“Andre Onana came new in and in the last games has stepped up, Rasmus Hojlund is a new striker and he came in and is stepping up. That is good stuff.
“We had some good midfield balance in the last two games, and hopefully we can keep that without new injuries in such departments and then I think we can really improve and find our success this season.”