Man Utd handed ideal transfer audition as Harry Maguire faces nightmare scenario

Harry Maguire will come up against one of Manchester United’s transfer targets when England host Switzerland at Wembley on Saturday, setting up a potential nightmare scenario

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International friendlies never mean anything, right? Well, this Saturday evening might be a different story for Harry Maguire.

The Manchester United captain is enduring the most difficult spell of his Old Trafford career to date, heading off to England duty fresh off a calamitous own goal and being knocked out of the Champions League over the past fortnight. A rocky season has led the 28-year-old’s future with the Red Devils to be put under threat, with more and more questions being asked of his long-term suitability by the day.

In contrast to his displays at club level, Maguire is usually imperious for England, regularly chipping in with goals – like Roy Keane’s favourite knee-slide celebration – and, crucially, being suited to Gareth Southgate’s three-man defensive system. However, even the comfort of wearing three lions on his shirt might not improve his predicament this weekend.

With England welcoming Switzerland to Wembley on Saturday, the £80million man is set to face off against the ace tipped to replace him in United’s backline: Manuel Akanji. The Borussia Dortmund centre-back has recently been linked with a move to Old Trafford and with Raphael Varane’s place assured at Old Trafford, it’ll be Maguire’s spot on the line if Akanji joins.

The Red Devils are reportedly keen on signing the Swiss defender, who’s on a ‘farewell tour’ of Dortmund in the final two months of the season. With his contract expiring in less than 18 months’ time and no new deal on the horizon, the Bundesliga behemoths keen to recoup some cash for the 26-year-old and interim United manager Ralf Rangnick is said to be a fan.

Akanji has been a Dortmund player since January 2018, with the highly-rated prospect joining from his native Basel for a cool £20m. That was the club’s second-highest outlay of that term, a vote of confidence in his elite credentials. When fit, Akanji has lived up to his price tag by establishing himself as a regular under four different managers.

And the then youngster’s acclimation to German football was helped by forging a friendship with Jadon Sancho, now a Red Devil after his own departure last summer – the third BVB star that United have signed over the past nine years. But it soon could be four as a result of Dortmund bidding to refresh their backline over the summer.

Akanji has been linked with a transfer to Man Utd

Entrusting Marco Rose to bring them back to title contention, the club have already agreed to bring in Niklas Sule when his contract with rivals Bayern Munich runs out in June. Add to that their pursuit of Freiburg sensation Nico Schlotterbeck, who could cost as little as £16.8m, and it appears plans for the post-Akanji are well underway.

It wouldn’t come as a shock for the Switzerland international to be eyeing up his next move either, with BVB failing to meet Akanji’s demands of an annual salary worth €12m. Dortmund are renowned for keeping a rigid wage structure to avoid financial mismanagement, setting up a possible switch to his “dream” club.

“I have a big dream, to get as far as possible in football,” he declared in an interview with NZZ after signing for BVB. “Since my childhood days, Manchester United have been my favourite club. I’d like to play there one day. But right now, that’s not an issue. I am happy at Dortmund and try to be the best possible person off the pitch.”

Rangnick has seen Akanji’s pedigree on show while in Germany and although the acclaimed coach’s consultancy role – which begins at the end of the season – has been described as ‘not hands-on’, his track record of identifying top talents can’t be ignored by Old Trafford chiefs, who’ve failed in their recruitment policy in recent years.

His competence on the ball with both feet mirrors that of Maguire’s, who is similarly vocal and enjoys marshalling the defence. To further comparisons between the duo, the 6ft 3in Red Devils skipper has the edge in the air and availability, while age and speed is most certainly on Akanji’s side, something ex-centre-back Rio Ferdinand believes United need in order to play the modern way.

“For all the good traits that [Maguire has in his game, [pace] is a big weakness and that is a fundamental of all of the top teams; to be able to play one-v-one on the halfway line,” Ferdinand admitted on his YouTube channel, Vibe with Five. “So, I think for Maguire, long-term – unless he can find that extra yard of pace – it’s gonna be difficult for him.”

Maguire is hoping to re-find his form on England duty

And plenty can vouch for Akanji’s pace, with former Dortmund boss Peter Stoger noting his speed after deploying him in an unfamiliar position for their 4-0 victory over Bayer Leverkusen. “It’s clear that Manuel’s a really good footballer with real pace,” Stoger affirmed post-match. “We knew he could play left-back, and he didn’t disappoint.”

That being said, added competition could push Maguire to improve, just as Alex Telles’ arrival in 2020 prompted Luke Shaw’s best season in Manchester. It’d also be a bold call for a new manager to dump the club captain out of the starting XI too, with Varane not yet proving his fitness on a consistent basis.

And he’s got the backing of Southgate, who had ‘no doubts’ over selecting him for England’s friendly double-header this month, with Ivory Coast to come next Tuesday. “I don’t think it ever crossed our minds not to select Harry Maguire for this squad,” the Three Lions boss explained. “He’s been a key part of the starting XI that got us to a World Cup semi-final and a Euros final. There’s no doubt in my mind that he’s one of our best centre-backs.”

Akanji’s contract with Dortmund expires in June 2023

Join the debate! Should Man Utd replace Maguire with Akanji? Give us your verdict here.

So, when the referee blows his whistle at Wembley on Saturday, Maguire could be staring into the eyes of a future teammate – and eventual replacement. Red Devils supporters will be watching on with interest, measuring Akanji’s ability against some of the Premier League’s finest forwards.

The 90 minutes will be an audition for Switzerland’s No.5, having rarely been able to test himself against that calibre of player during four frustrating campaigns for a slowly declining Dortmund. If he’s not watching the cricket, like last weekend, Rangnick will likely also turn on the television and assess his performance against Harry Kane and co.

But if Maguire – facing competition from Ben White and Marc Guehi in the England squad – can mark Saturday as the first of multiple solid displays ahead of United’s final nine Premier League games, it could turn his club’s attention to other areas in the transfer market and silence his critics.

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