Harry Maguire is feeling optimistic about his chances of being fit for the Europa League final, according to Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

Maguire suffered ankle ligament damage in an awkward collision with Anwar El Ghazi during the 3-1 win over Aston Villa on May 9 and subsequently had to be withdrawn.

It was an unusual situation for United and Maguire to find themselves in, as the centre-back had played in every minute of 71 consecutive league games for the Red Devils – and in his final five for Leicester City before moving two years ago – until that injury.

In fact, Maguire has played for 9,615 minutes in all competitions since the start of 2019-20. Prior to the defeat to Liverpool on Thursday, that was almost 1,000 more than any other player across the top five leagues.

That loss to the Reds came just two days after losing to Leicester, meaning United have been beaten in both games without their captain and Solskjaer was quick to accept that he will surely not play again in the Premier League this term.

Given United are already guaranteed to finish in the top four, their focus is now on facing Villarreal in the Europa League final on May 26, with Solskjaer hoping to end his wait for silverware at the club.

The manager offered an update on Sunday, insisting United will take no chances with Maguire's fitness.

"He's making progress," Solskjaer told reporters. "When I spoke to him this morning he was quite positive but, naturally, the day after it happened we were all down.

"We saw early on, or we decided that we have to focus, we have to be positive, and think that you're going make it until you have to say 'no'. I've always been an optimist, so we're positive.

"But we've consciously taken the route of not testing him out too early, too quickly, because we don't want to aggravate something. He wants this so much, so he doesn't want to take any risks, either.

"Hopefully we can have good news early, but I'll give Harry as long as it takes, because of course he has shown his importance.

"Hopefully he'll speed up the recovery and be ready for the final, but I'll give him as long as he needs, until he says 'yes' or 'no'."

Although Solskjaer needs no convincing of Maguire's influence, fans and pundits have not always been so kind about him considering United made him the world's most expensive defender when they bought him in 2019.

Maguire has missed 12 games for United in all competitions, most of them in the domestic cups, so comparing them directly with and without their captain is a pretty redundant exercise.

Examining his individual numbers offers a broader picture of his influence, though. He has helped United to 42 clean sheets in all competitions since joining, the most of any defender across Europe's top five leagues prior to the Liverpool loss. He was also directly responsible for by far the most clearances (391), headed clearances (244), duels won (645) and aerials won (432) over that same period.

Unquestionably a good stopper, he has also proved suitably adept with the ball. Maguire has made 6,152 successful passes in his United career, again the most of any defender in those top European leagues over the aforementioned period. Of those passes, 2,142 have been completed in the opponent's half, which is the best figure for any nominal centre-back.

Maguire can also claim to have had as much of an influence on United's patterns of play as any Solskjaer signing – barring Bruno Fernandes, of course.

In the Premier League this season, Maguire has started 24 open-play sequences that have ended in a shot, which again was the highest number among the division's centre-backs until his injury.

Maguire has not only made United's defence more resolute; he has directly impacted their use of the ball. His absence has already been keenly felt, but at least the United captain might start to be acknowledged as one of the most influential players in England – not that it was ever in doubt for Solskjaer.

"We've known it [his importance] all along, of course. But maybe some people open their eyes when he's not playing! I certainly felt I became a very, very good player when I was injured. People suddenly realised what I could do as a sub, or as a player," Solskjaer continued.

"Harry's been our leader, he's a captain. Ever since he's come in, he's been more or less ever-present, so of course he's a big miss at the moment."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted he is concerned about Manchester United's defending, especially from set-pieces, after they were beaten at home by Liverpool.

The Red Devils took the lead through a deflected Bruno Fernandes strike but went on to lose 4-2 at Old Trafford on Thursday as Jurgen Klopp's side boosted their Champions League hopes.

Liverpool's equaliser came following a corner, Diogo Jota turning in a Nat Phillips effort, and they took the lead in first-half injury time when Roberto Firmino headed in Trent Alexander-Arnold's free-kick.

Firmino got his second just after half-time from a rebound from a Dean Henderson save and, although United got a goal back through Marcus Rashford, Mohamed Salah struck a fourth with a late breakaway goal.

United's defence rarely looked comfortable without captain Harry Maguire as they suffered a third defeat in eight days in all competitions, while they have now conceded 27 home goals in the league this season, the most in a single season since 1969-70.

More worrying is their persistent fallibility from dead-ball situations. United have conceded 33 per cent of their league goals against in 2020-21 from set-pieces (14 out of 42, not including penalties), which is the highest ratio in the division.

They also conceded from a last-minute corner against Milan in the Europa League last-16 first leg, while Manchester City's goals in their 2-0 EFL Cup semi-final win at Old Trafford came from a free-kick and a poorly cleared corner.

Manager Solskjaer would not criticise his players for the way they lost possession in the build-up to Liverpool's third, but those set-piece concerns are ones he wants to address.

"The goals we conceded, set-plays, [it is] disappointing," said Solskjaer. "That is something we have to work on because we have conceded too many goals from it.

"The third one, we want to play out, we have been good at playing out, we put pressure on them to play out and sometimes we've scored goals from it.

"Today, unfortunately, the two or three mistakes that happened cost us a goal. But they tried to correct it by winning it back and then we lost it after winning it back.

"Football would be really boring if no-one made a mistake. That is the whole idea of football. Of course, you try to eradicate them and work on them, but we have conceded too many goals and we could have avoided some of these and especially the timings of them.

"We're going to use the next couple of days well, to recover physically and mentally, and then we have to prepare for Fulham and then Wolves and then the final. We should have more energy.

"We should use this period well. More energy means a better press; a better press means less chances against.

"We will work on it and brush up on a few details, pay attention to some details on the set plays and put the players in the frame of mind that these set-plays are vital in football. But we can do so much better and when we do that, we will improve."

With Maguire set to miss their final league games against Fulham and Wolves, and with the captain a major doubt for the Europa League final on May 26, Solskjaer is looking for others to take on leadership roles.

He said: "Harry has been amazing since he came to the club, he's been more or less ever-present, so of course, when a player is a leader, a captain, the status of him, his presence is missed.

"But then we've got players who can come in and it's a chance for everyone to take on that little bit of leadership. We need to do that when he's gone.

"You can hear him in the stands when he's not playing. He is important for us and someone else has to just take that responsibility now.

"I'm sure that, in the next two games, we will be without him. Hopefully, we can get him in for the final but who knows? I don't know yet."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer conceded Manchester United lost to the better team against Liverpool, but did claim fan protests outside Old Trafford disrupted his team.

United went down 4-2 to their rivals on Thursday – Jurgen Klopp's men clinching a vital three points in their bid for Champions League qualification.

It was a match rearranged following fan protests against United's ownership on May 2, when supporters prevented the teams from leaving their hotels and also got onto the Old Trafford pitch.

There were no such security breaches this time around, though United's squad arrived at the ground around six hours before kick-off.

However, a large fan presence once again gathered outside the ground ahead of the game, and Solskjaer does believe it had a negative impact on United's preparations and performance.

"Of course it disrupted us a little bit so it's not been ideal but we had to deal with it," he told Sky Sports.

"Hopefully when we let the fans in on Tuesday it's a good atmosphere. We have waited a long time to let them in so we're looking forward to enjoying the game together.

"They deserved the win. We conceded goals in key moments of the game. We didn't build on the momentum or break up their momentum. We gave them at least two goals really. Then we scored again, had a massive chance. Key moments went against us.

"Their shape and their pressing is very aggressive. We created our own downfall. The second goal you probably expect no foul there then it's a bad moment to concede just before half-time. The third goal we gave them and that's really poor."

United were without captain Harry Maguire for a second straight game, with the England defender having sustained an injury against Aston Villa on Sunday.

Solskjaer's side have lost both games Maguire has missed, but he insisted United must recover from the loss of the centre-back, who may well miss the rest of the campaign, including the Europa League final against Villarreal in Gdansk.

"Harry [Maguire] has been really important for us so of course we're going to miss him but he's out so we have to deal with that," Solskjaer continued.

"It's about regrouping and building our own confidence again as we have two games and a final.

"Tuesday. We need to find ourselves straight away. We need to build that momentum and confidence. We should go into that final ready."

It was a shame Harry Maguire's run of never missing a Premier League match for Manchester United had to end against his former club – even if Leicester City might have been pleased.

The United captain sat out Tuesday's 2-1 win for the Foxes at Old Trafford, a result that handed Manchester City the title and brought one of this season's few constants to an end.

Maguire had played in every minute of 71 consecutive league games for the Red Devils – and in his final five for Leicester before his transfer two years ago – until an unfortunate ankle injury saw him hobble off 78 minutes into his side's 3-1 win at Aston Villa last Sunday.

Granted, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer may well have rested him for Leicester's visit anyway due to the "impossible" task of playing three Premier League games in five days, but the decision, in the end, was taken out of his hands as United's lingering title hopes finally died.

City were almost certain to win the league anyway and United are guaranteed a top-four finish, so their remaining league matches with Liverpool, Fulham and Wolves are of comparatively little importance even if second place is not yet secured. More pertinent is the looming Europa League final on May 26, when Solskjaer will get his first shot at silverware as United manager, possibly with his captain watching from the sidelines.

Depending on their performance and results in these coming four games, Maguire may at least be given some of the credit he deserves, which was notably scarce in that 71-match run.

CAPTAIN'S RUN

Firstly, the simple reality of playing that many consecutive matches without a minute's rest is more remarkable than many seem to realise.

Since the start of 2019-20, Maguire has played for 9,615 minutes in all competitions, more than any other player across Europe's top five leagues. The next on that list is Bayern Munich goalkeeper Manuel Neuer on 8,700 minutes, a difference that equates to more than 10 full matches.

Critics would argue praising a footballer for playing is no different to lauding any other professional –  much less handsomely paid – for simply turning up for work, but starting 106 matches across two seasons, any two seasons, is commendable. Throw in the unprecedented disruption of a global pandemic, the lockdowns, the pause in training and matches, the restart, the brutal rescheduling and the persistent restrictions on personal travel, and what Maguire has managed points to an astonishing work ethic and dedication.

Few people truly believe Maguire, or any defender, is worth the £80million United paid for him three years ago, but that kind of outlay undoubtedly looks better on a balance sheet when the 'asset' has been available for his team at every opportunity. Look at Eden Hazard, a €100m-plus Galactico who moved at the same time as Maguire and has played roughly a quarter of the number of minutes since for Real Madrid.

TOP OF THE CHARTS

Maguire has missed 11 games for United in all competitions, most of them in the domestic cups, so comparing them directly with and without their captain is a pretty redundant exercise.

Examining his individual numbers offers a broader picture of his influence, though. He has helped United to 42 clean sheets in all competitions, the most of any defender across Europe's top five leagues in that time. He is also directly responsible for by far the most clearances (391), headed clearances (244), duels won (645) and aerials won (432).

Anyone with Maguire's minutes will naturally build up those sorts of numbers, but his averages place him in good company, too. Since his United debut, Maguire's 3.66 headed clearances per 90 minutes is better than that of John Stones (2.47), Ruben Dias (2.86) and Antonio Rudiger (3.1), and a fraction behind Virgil van Dijk (3.94). His duels-won-per-90 rate of 6.04 is marginally better than Van Dijk's (5.95) and behind only Chris Basham, Jannik Vestergaard and James Tarkowski among central defenders from England's top tier.

Unquestionably a good stopper, he has also proved suitably adept with the ball. Maguire has made 6,152 successful passes in his United career, again the most of any defender in those top European leagues over the same period. Of those passes, 2,142 have been completed in the opponent's half, which is the best figure for any nominal centre-back.

Compare United 2018-19 with how they have been since Maguire's arrival, and his impact becomes starker. In that season, when Solskjaer took over from Jose Mourinho in December 2018, only six Premier League teams conceded more goals than United (70) in all competitions, while their Expected Goals Against tally of 71.8 was the fourth worst among Premier League sides. They also faced 694 shots, the third most behind Arsenal (709) and Tottenham (718), and kept only 12 clean sheets. Man City kept 33.

In Maguire's first season, United conceded only 51 in all competitions, the fewest of any Premier League sides apart from Leicester (49) and Sheffield United (45), with their xGA dropping to 59.24, the lowest of the 'big six' apart from City (55.02). They also faced 79 fewer shots and kept 27 clean sheets, more than any other Premier League side.

United have already conceded 61 times this season, but 12 of those goals came in their first three league games just a month after their run to the previous Europa League semi-finals and shortly following a legal case involving Maguire in Greece. They still have the third-best defence in the Premier League, have lost the joint fewest games (five) and have kept 24 clean sheets in all competitions, behind only City and Chelsea (31).

THE MAGUIRE WAY

Maguire can also claim to have had as much of an influence on United's patterns of play as any Solskjaer signing – barring Bruno Fernandes, of course.

Solskjaer's side have often faced difficulty against well-structured defences partly because the Red Devils sometimes lack players willing to break lines and pull opponents out of position. Counterintuitively, that's something Maguire does extremely well.

In the Premier League this season, only Ruben Dias (806) has completed more carries (moving with the ball five metres or more) than Maguire (685), who is regularly the starting point of positive United moves. Indeed, Maguire has started 24 open-play sequences to end in a shot, which is the highest number among Premier League centre-backs this term. 

Similarly, Maguire has 93 shot build-up involvements, a useful measure of those players who actively contribute to attacking situations without actually taking the shot themselves. Again, only Dias (98) has more among centre-backs, while each of them has seen those involvements end in a goal 13 times, the most in the league.

Maguire has not only made United's defence more resolute; he has directly impacted their use of the ball. His absence in the coming games will be keenly felt, but at least the United captain might start to be acknowledged as one of the most influential players in England.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer does not expect Harry Maguire to feature in the Premier League again this season but remains hopeful he will be fit for the Europa League final.

United captain Maguire suffered ankle ligament damage when he collided with Anwar El Ghazi during a 3-1 win at Aston Villa last Sunday.

The England centre-back was at Old Trafford on crutches wearing a protective boot on his left foot for a 2-1 loss to Leicester City on Tuesday, a defeat that sealed the title for Manchester City.

Solskjaer thinks Maguire's top-flight campaign is over with three games to play, but is optimistic he will face Villarreal in Gdansk on May 26.

The United boss said on the eve of Thursday's Premier League encounter with Liverpool: "The good news was it wasn't broken. There was no fracture, but a ligament injury of course is serious as well.

"If I'm very positive - that's maybe stretching it - I'm hopeful that he might be ready for it [the Europa League final]. I don't think he'll play in the league again before [the end of the season]. We'll do everything we can to get him ready for the final."

Solskjaer said there should be no concerns that he might take a risk by playing Maguire with Euro 2020 on the horizon.

"You always try to look after players long-term. If he's fit, he'll play for us, if he's not he won't," said the former Norway striker.

"As I said, we're hopeful that he's ready. If he's ready for us, he'll probably be ready for the Euros. Norway are not in the Euros, so I'm not really that concerned [about the Euros]."

Solskjaer made 10 changes to his starting line-up for the defeat to the Foxes and will rotate again when they face Champions League hopefuls Liverpool, given United are amid a schedule of four games in the space of 10 days.

"There will be changes of course but many of the players that played tonight did really well so they're in contention as well," he added.

"It's about managing the squad now and building momentum, building confidence, making sure we get enough points to get second and then going into the final confident."

Harry Maguire could miss the Europa League final after Manchester United confirmed he suffered ankle ligament damage against Aston Villa, though Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is hopeful he can face Villarreal.

The England centre-back was visibly hurt following a challenge with Anwar El Ghazi in Sunday's 3-1 comeback win and had to be replaced by Eric Bailly after 78 minutes.

Solskjaer was unclear how long United would be without Maguire initially, suggesting there was a chance he could be fit for Tuesday's visit of Leicester City before also acknowledging his season may be over.

He was able to offer a little more clarity on Tuesday, with Maguire left out of the squad to face his former club, revealing there has been ligament damage rather than a fracture.

A statement on the United website said that "he could also be absent for the remaining league fixtures", while also stating he faces a "race against time" to be fit for the Europa League final on May 26.

Solskjaer stressed he remains optimistic, though he could not be certain that Maguire will feature in Gdansk.

Speaking to MUTV ahead of the clash with Leicester, Solskjaer said: "He's obviously had the scans and the good news is there is no fracture.

"[There's] ligament damage but hopefully we will see him again this season. Hopefully, he'll be ready for the final."

Maguire had previously played every minute in the Premier League since joining from Leicester prior to his withdrawal on Sunday.

His run of 71 games in succession put him tied with only Gary Pallister for an outfield United player in the competition – with the ex-Red Devils defender coincidentally also seeing his streak ended by injury at Villa Park in the 1995-96 season.

Harry Maguire is a potential fitness doubt for Manchester United's Europa League final after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said his captain could miss a "few weeks" with the injury sustained against Aston Villa.

The England centre-back was visibly hurt following a challenge with Anwar El Ghazi in Sunday's 3-1 comeback win and had to be replaced by Eric Bailly after 78 minutes.

Red Devils boss Solskjaer is waiting to learn the extent of the damage to the lower leg injury, and with the Europa League final against Villarreal scheduled for May 26, Maguire's status for the fixture is unclear.

"Hopefully that [the final] will be okay with Harry," Solskjaer said. "I don't know. We need to check it. It might be a few weeks or a month - we don't know.

"It was his calf or lower leg. I think the player landed on him and he twisted something."

However, Solskjaer clarified that the damage may not be too bad as he waits to learn of the damage.

"I don't know how serious it is. He might be available on Tuesday, he might not," he added.

Maguire had previously played every minute in the Premier League since joining from Leicester City. His run of 71 games in succession means he only tied Gary Pallister for an outfield United player in the competition – with the ex-Red Devils defender coincidentally also seeing his streak ended by injury at Villa Park in the 1995-96 season.

"Harry has been excellent and it's almost unheard of, the minutes he's played," Solskjaer said. 

"His fitness is very good – he's robust. But, today, it looked like the boy landed on him and he twisted his ankle."

For the 10th time this season, United had to come from behind in an away league match to avoid defeat, with a Bruno Fernandes penalty and efforts from Mason Greenwood and Edinson Cavani cancelling out Bertrand Traore's fine first-half strike.

Greenwood – who with 16 Premier League goals now has the most as a teenager for United, beating Wayne Rooney's previous benchmark of 15 – hailed the character to fight back again.

"It is some achievement. We don't really want to go behind but it gives us a little boost to come back and get the win," he told BBC Sport.

"It was well-improved [in the second half]. Ole said his bits in the changing room. It seemed to pay off.

"To be on the main stage and scoring important goals like today, it means a lot.

"We just concentrate on ourselves, we take it game by game. We want to get as many points as we can and keep the pressure on [Manchester City]."

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said Manchester United's fixture schedule will be "physically impossible" for his players in the wake of their progress to the Europa League final.

Despite losing 3-2 in the semi-final second leg on Thursday, United secured their place in a cup final for the first time under manager Solskjaer with an 8-5 aggregate win over Roma.

United started with a strong side in Rome despite their 6-2 first-leg win, with Edinson Cavani scoring in each half to help the Premier League giants progress despite goals from Edin Dzeko, Bryan Cristante and an Alex Telles own goal.

The Red Devils must now return for a hectic run of three Premier League games in five days. They visit Aston Villa on Sunday, host Leicester City next Tuesday and tackle Liverpool next Thursday in a match that was postponed from last weekend due to supporter protests against the owners.

Solskjaer appeared resigned to the fact his players are unlikely to be able to play at their maximum against three tough opponents.

"It's unheard of," he told BT Sport. "[The decision] was made by people who have never played football at this level. It's physically impossible for the players.

"We have not been dealt a good hand. We are going to need everyone for these four games. It's a short turnaround, but we have to be ready."

United had lost their previous four semi-finals under Solskjaer, including in last season's Europa League, and they needed Cavani's goals and 10 saves from goalkeeper David de Gea to keep Roma at bay amid a somewhat erratic performance.

"It feels good to be in the final," said Solskjaer. "We played one very, very good half at Old Trafford, which has taken us through. I'm disappointed we lost, especially the way we played in the second half.

"It could easily have been 8-6 to them. It was a strange game. We kept giving them the ball but luckily we have one of the best keepers in the world. We are in the final and are looking forward to May 26."

Captain Harry Maguire accepted United gave up too many opportunities in the Italian capital and was full of praise for Cavani's clinical scoring touch.

"It's a great achievement to get to the final," he said. "We didn't win the game and that's disappointing but we did the hard work in the first leg.

"We started the game a bit edgy. It was end to end like basketball and we gave them too many chances in the second half.

"Now we've got to go to the final and win it. Edinson scored two great goals and his movement and work rate without the ball is excellent.

"His second goal is typical of him and what he has done throughout his career."

Harry Maguire defended John Stones after bailing out his centre-back colleague's error with a late winner in England's 2-1 World Cup qualifying victory over Poland on Wednesday.

England's 100 per cent start in Group I was seemingly about to end after Harry Kane's first-half penalty was cancelled out just before the hour by Jakub Moder.

Stones was robbed just outside his own box by Moder, who nudged the ball to Arkadiusz Milik and quickly received a return pass before emphatically firing beyond Nick Pope with the first shot on target England had faced in the group.

But Maguire lashed in a fierce effort of his own five minutes from time, latching on to a knock-down by Stones at a corner, ensuring the Three Lions made it three wins from as many games on the road to Qatar 2022.

It stretched England's winning run at home in World Cup and European Championship qualifiers to 20 matches going back to October 2012, and Maguire was keen to downplay Stones' initial mistake.

"John [Stones] has been brilliant this year," Maguire told ITV Sport, alluding to the Manchester City defender's emergence as a key player for Pep Guardiola's runaway Premier League leaders.

"Defenders make mistakes and when we do we get scrutinised. He's had a great year, a great camp as well. He made one little mistake but made up for it with a great header at the back post, that's what he's there for.

"I said to him to just keep going, keep going and we'll get the win and we managed to do that."

While Stones' technical talents have never been in doubt, the former Everton defender has been prone to the occasional lapse in concentration throughout his Premier League career.

Since joining City before the 2016-17 season, only six outfield Premier League players have made more mistakes leading to shots than Stones (12) has across all competitions, while Granit Xhaka (eight) and Dejan Lovren (seven) are the sole individuals to have brought on more goals with mistakes than the England man (six).

But this season Stones appears to have turned a corner, with the 26-year-old yet to see any error of his lead to a shot or goal for City.

As such, Maguire does not believe Wednesday's mishap is anything more than a blip.

"We're defenders, we always make mistakes," Maguire added. "Obviously, we don't like making mistakes but sometimes we are at fault for goals. We're not perfect, by any means, and John obviously had a little blip tonight.

"He will come back strong. He's in great form club and country, he's been brilliant over this camp and apart from that little mistake, which I'm sure he won't make again soon, it was a big performance from him to come back strong with the reaction he made and getting the assist is important for the team."

England manager Gareth Southgate echoed that sentiment, applauding Stones' response.

"He managed to compose himself for the rest of the game and had a part in the winning goal which was important - you can fold in those moments and he didn't," Southgate said.

"He's been having a good season and he's made a mistake tonight, he knows that but he bounced back during the game and he's got to keep doing that."

Harry Maguire bailed out what looked set to be a costly John Stones error as the Manchester United defender scored England's late winner in a 2-1 victory over Poland on Wednesday.

Gareth Southgate's men, who had begun a new World Cup qualifying campaign with wins over San Marino and Albania, just about did enough against a Poland side without the injured Robert Lewandowski.

The Three Lions were good value for their lead amid a commanding first-half display, Harry Kane becoming England's all-time leading penalty scorer on 10 as he converted after fine play by Raheem Sterling.

Stones gifted Poland a chance that Jakub Moder capitalised on in the 58th minute, though he played an important role as Maguire's goal maintain England's unblemished start in Group I.

 

England played the ball around with swagger during the early exchanges and almost opened the scoring in the eighth minute, only for Phil Foden to head Ben Chilwell's cross over after Mason Mount carved the Poland defence open.

Nevertheless, England did not have to wait much longer to take the lead, Kane confidently dispatching a penalty having seen the lively Sterling clumsily tripped by Michal Helik.

Kane was then denied a second just past the half-hour mark, latching on to Foden's clever first-time offload and forcing Wojciech Szczesny into an applaudable save down to his right from 20 yards.

But England were pegged back before the hour, Stones – who had put England in trouble a few minutes earlier only to be bailed out by Nick Pope – was robbed just outside his own penalty and Moder applied an emphatic finish after being fed by substitute Arkadiusz Milik.

England's response was meek, the home side's urgency showing little sign of improvement as the seconds ticked away – Foden's weak right-footed shot in the 69th minute causing Szczesny no bother.

There was to be a final hurrah for the hosts, however, as Stones made up for his earlier blunder by heading a corner delivery back into the danger zone and Maguire smashed past the helpless Szczesny to seal the points.

Gareth Southgate is set to bring up 50 games in charge when England start their qualifying campaign for the 2022 World Cup.

San Marino are the visitors to Wembley Stadium for the milestone match, with Southgate the seventh to make it to a half-century at the helm for England.

His record so far is impressive: 29 wins, 10 draws and 10 defeats. He has also introduced some notable names to international football, many of which will form the backbone for the Three Lions in this year's delayed Euro 2020 tournament. 

In total, 42 players have made their senior debuts under the current boss. Plenty have made an impact, though some have fallen by the wayside since getting a taste of the senior team. 

HITS 

Jesse Lingard 

Lingard is the only member of the current England squad to have made his debut in Southgate's first match in charge, a 2-0 win over Malta in October 2016. The 28-year-old was a key member of the 2018 World Cup squad but has not featured for his country since the Nations League Finals nearly two years ago, having struggled for minutes at Manchester United. 

However, a January loan move to West Ham has paid off. No player has been involved in more goals – Lingard has scored five while also providing two assists – since his debut for the Hammers in February. Southgate – who advised the player to remain in the Premier League – has duly taken note, handing him a recall. 

Harry Maguire 

Maguire made his first England appearance against Lithuania in October 2017, when he was playing for Leicester City. The centre-back quickly established himself in Southgate's side for the World Cup semi-final run, while he has continued to be a mainstay since for the national side.  

Indeed, the Manchester United defender has missed just 14 possible outings for club and country since that maiden outing, starting 28 out of England's 30 matches. 

Kieran Trippier 

Paris was the setting for Trippier's bow, the full-back handed a chance in a 3-2 friendly defeat against France that saw him start alongside then-Tottenham team-mates Eric Dier, Dele Alli and Harry Kane. 

Now playing his club football in Spain with Atletico Madrid, the 30-year-old continues to be a key attacking outlet for Southgate's teams. His total of 55 chances created since June 2017 is comfortably the highest for England, with striker Kane second on the list with 37. 

Jordan Pickford 

No player has both played and started more games for England under Southgate than Pickford, whose debut came in November 2017.  With 30 appearances, he sits one ahead of Maguire.

The Everton goalkeeper will not be involved as his manager celebrates his 50th match at the helm, though, as an abdominal muscle injury sees him missing for March's World Cup qualifiers. His absence also offers some of his rivals for the starting job an opportunity to stake their claim to be considered number one, with Pickford's form having been somewhat unconvincing for a while.

Declan Rice 

Rice's introduction to action for England came via a substitute appearance during a 5-0 win over the Czech Republic two years ago, replacing Alli just after the hour mark. 

The midfielder started all six of the Nations League qualifiers in 2020-21, including scoring his first international goal in a 4-0 triumph over Iceland. As for his club career, only Rio Ferdinand and Joe Cole played more minutes in the Premier League for West Ham than Rice before the age of 22.


MISSES 

Nathaniel Chalobah 

Having represented England through the youth levels from under-16s upwards, Chalobah has so far played one solitary minute for the senior team, with his late, late opportunity coming against Spain in October 2018.  

Since then, the former Chelsea midfielder has started just 42 league games for Watford. This season he is plying his trade in the Championship, contributing three goals and an assist as the Hornets aim for an immediate return to the top flight. 

Dominic Solanke 

Solanke was part of the England squad that won the 2014 European Under-17 Championship, including scoring in a final against the Netherlands that was eventually settled by a penalty shoot-out. 

His senior debut came against Brazil in November 2017, but he has not been involved since. The striker signed for Bournemouth in January 2019 but failed to score in his first 38 Premier League appearances for the club, a barren run finally ended with a brace against Leicester in July 2020. He has been far more prolific in the Championship, getting 11 goals.

Lewis Cook 

Cook had success with England at youth level, captaining the squad that went all the way at the Under-20 World Cup. Solanke was also involved in that tournament, along with full internationals Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Dean Henderson - who was not first choice in goal - and Fikayo Tomori. 

The midfielder's maiden appearance for the senior side earned his grandfather a tidy windfall through a winning bet, but that outing as a substitute against Italy at Wembley remains his only cap. Since then, he has started 58 games for Bournemouth, scoring once. 

Jack Cork 

Another to be handed a late cameo by Southgate, Cork featured for all of four minutes in a friendly with Germany in November 2017. A young line-up that included new faces Pickford and Ruben Loftus-Cheek managed a 0-0 draw at Wembley. 

The midfielder – who was part of the Great Britain squad coached by Stuart Pearce at the 2012 Olympic Games in London – was a regular at Burnley before injuries hampered him in the current season, restricting him to just nine league outings for Sean Dyche's team in the 2020-21 campaign. 

Lewis Dunk 

Dunk has helped Brighton and Hove Albion rise from League One to the Premier League, with his performances earning him an England opportunity against the United States in November 2018. He started in a 3-0 win that saw Wayne Rooney make his 120th and final appearance for the Three Lions. 

The centre-back has not featured since, however, despite remaining a mainstay for his club. Since August 2018, Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (10) is the only defender to have scored more Premier League goals than Dunk's impressive total of nine.  

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer hopes Paul Pogba can give Manchester United a "big boost for the rest of the season" after he made an instant impact on his return from injury.

Having not featured in United's previous 10 games, Pogba scored within three minutes of coming on as a substitute against Milan in the Europa League, his goal securing a 1-0 victory in the second leg at San Siro.

The result was enough to see the Premier League side progress 2-1 on aggregate, meaning they will be in Friday's quarter-final draw.

Solskjaer was delighted to have the France international available again, particularly as he had been in such outstanding form prior to suffering a thigh problem against Everton in early February.

"We've missed Paul. He's been out for over two months and any team would miss a player like Paul Pogba," Solskjaer told BT Sport.

"He was just getting into his best form. He's very important for us and will give us a big boost for the rest of the season. Today, he made a very, very big difference."

United had conceded a late equaliser in the first leg at Old Trafford, yet this time they held firm to keep a clean sheet against their Italian opponents.

Goalkeeper Dean Henderson produced an excellent save to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic an equaliser, while Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire excelled in defence for the visitors.

The centre-backs both made five clearances, plus the same number of interceptions each, though Solskjaer was pleased with how the whole team had worked so hard to keep Milan at bay.

"You give yourselves a chance to win games of football [with clean sheets]," the Norwegian said.

"Dean had a fantastic save towards the end, from the big lad (Ibrahimovic). I'm very pleased with everyone and their defending, right from the front.

"Dan James, Mason [Greenwood], Marcus [Rashford] and Bruno [Fernandes] - the front four pressing like they do.

"We always know that the back six – with Scott [McTominay], Fred and the back four – always give everything."

Solskjaer felt United should have had an early penalty following Fikayo Tomori's challenge on James, the referee's decision to refrain from awarding a foul ultimately not costly.

But Solskjaer said it demonstrated just how cup ties can hinge on key decisions.

"You've got to be spot-on in cup competitions. Anything can happen," the United boss said.

"Today, I think it's a penalty on Dan James in the first minute, or five minutes, whatever. Sometimes you get it, sometimes you don't. If you get that against you, anything can happen in cup competitions.

"We are through, we're confident and we're looking forward to the draw."

The Red Devils have an FA Cup quarter-final against Leicester City to come at the weekend, their last fixture before the international break.

A second coming for Cristiano Ronaldo in the Spanish capital?

After a trophy-laden spell with Real Madrid, Ronaldo made the switch to Juventus.

But Madrid's all-time leading goalscorer is reportedly keen on a second stint at the Santiago Bernabeu.

 

TOP STORY – RONALDO EYEING MADRID REUNION

Cristiano Ronaldo wants to return to Real Madrid, according to the frontpage of Saturday's Diario AS.

Ronaldo's future with Juventus has been placed in doubt following the club's Champions League last-16 exit.

The five-time Ballon d'Or winner, who left Madrid for Juve in 2018, has reportedly been in contact with Los Blancos for months.

 

ROUND-UP

- New Barcelona president Joan Laporta will offer superstar captain Lionel Messi a fresh contract in the coming weeks, reports Mundo Deportivo. The deal would include Messi – heavily tipped to join either Paris Saint-Germain or Manchester City as a free agent at the end of the season – becoming a club ambassador after retirement. Laporta is also set to push ahead with moves for Bayern Munich's David Alaba, Borussia Dortmund sensation Erling Haaland and City forward Sergio Aguero.

City lead the race to sign Haaland, according to the Daily Mail. Haaland is a player in demand, linked with Manchester United, Chelsea, LiverpoolJuve, PSG, Barca and Madrid.

Joao Felix is also an option at the Etihad Stadium. Cuatro claims the Atletico Madrid star is a target if Aguero leaves City.

- Le10Sport claims PSG remain in talks with Neymar over a four-year contract extension. A deal is believed to be some way off.

Harry Maguire wants United to sign an English-speaking defender, reports The Transfer Window Podcast. The Red Devils have been linked with Madrid captain Sergio Ramos and team-mate Raphael Varane, Sevilla's Jules Kounde, RB Leipzig centre-back Ibrahima Konate and Napoli star Kalidou Koulibaly. But Brighton and Hove Albion's Ben White has emerged as a target.

- TMW Radio says Atletico could be set to make a move for Napoli midfielder Fabian Ruiz. The Spain international has been previously linked with Barca and Madrid.

Manchester United captain Harry Maguire paid tribute to the "brilliant" job Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is doing as manager, adamant he has overseen an improvement in their fortunes.

Maguire is in his second season at United, having joined in 2019 in a reported £80million deal, making him the most expensive defender of all time.

Solskjaer guided United back into the Champions League last term, though their third-place finish with 66 points was still seen as somewhat underwhelming given the significant amount of money spent on the team and the fact title-winners Liverpool ended up with 99 points.

Although the Red Devils failed to get out of their Champions League group, with Paris Saint-Germain and RB Leipzig going through instead, United do look likely to improve significantly on their haul of 66 points – after 28 Premier League games, they have 54 following the weekend win over leaders Manchester City.

That 2-0 victory probably came too late in the season to do any real damage to City's march towards the title, with Pep Guardiola's men still 11 clear at the summit, but Maguire believes there are clear signs of progress under the Norwegian.

"We have a great relationship," Maguire told UEFA about Solskjaer ahead of Thursday's Europa League last-16 first leg visit of Milan.

"I feel he's done brilliantly – he's cool, calm, but he's also got the side of him where he can turn when he needs to and when the players need a little telling-off.

"We're close. We speak a lot before training, before games. I give my ideas to him and how I feel the group is and the mentality of the group and what we can improve on and where we can go as a club, and he's exactly the same.

"We've definitely improved. I joined two years ago, and people didn't think we'd get in the top four. We got in the top four, and then you start the next season and people don't think you'll get in the top four [again].

"But then when you find yourself, let's say, sitting second in the table, people then say: 'Well, Manchester United should be second in the table; they should be challenging for the top.' So, everything… it's just the demands, the demands, the demands.

"The mentality has changed. We're more consistent now. Obviously, it was disappointing to get knocked out in the Champions League, but we've found ourselves in a position in the Premier League where now we've got to kick on."

United are in the knockout phase of the Europa League for the second successive season – in 2019-20 they made it to the semi-finals but were beaten by Sevilla.

The omens are not great for United this time around, either – they have been eliminated from four of their five knockout ties with Milan, with no team knocking them out of European competitions more often.

Nevertheless, Milan's recent record in the last 16 of European tournaments is poor, being defeated at this stage in six of seven previous occasions they have gone this far into a continental competition.

Manchester United star Bruno Fernandes insisted "people will always complain about everything" after scoring in the derby win away to Premier League leaders Manchester City.

Fernandes was on target in Sunday's 2-0 victory over City, converting a penalty after just 101 seconds at the Etihad Stadium as United snapped the hosts' 21-match winning streak.

The Portugal international was in the spotlight prior to United's success against City – his record against 'top six' clubs criticised following his performance against Chelsea in the goalless draw last time out.

Tottenham were the only club among the established 'top six' that Fernandes had found the back of the net against this season – a penalty in Octobers 6-1 humiliation at home to Spurs – before opening the scoring versus City.

"Every penalty has the same pressure for me," Fernandes, who has 16 goals and 10 assists through 28 games this Premier League season, told MUTV when asked if he felt the weight of expectation. "It's always pressure to take a pen, doesn't matter if it's against City, or another team. It's always pressure to take the pens.

"I like that kind of pressure. It's good pressure. I knew what I had to do. I did it in the right way with the right power and I'm happy to score, of course.

"Honestly for us it's about winning. People will always complain about everything. Today it will still be Bruno never scores in big games.

"They will put open play no goals, it was a penalty [and say] it doesn't count! So for us the most important thing is winning the game.

"It doesn't matter how you score, when the ball touches the net it's a goal. I will be happy and it doesn't matter if it's me or another one scoring."

Luke Shaw was also on target five minutes into the second half as United extended their unbeaten streak away from home in the league to 22 games.

United have won three consecutive away games in all competitions against City for the first time since a run of four between November 1993 and November 2000.

But United remain 11 points adrift of City atop the table with 10 matches remaining.

"I think it was almost perfect," added Fernandes of the performance. "We created a lot of chances where maybe we could finish better, or play a better last pass or last shot.

"When we create chances it's always good because if you create it's a sign you're playing well and trying to do something different.

"I think we played a little bit better in the second half because in the first half they pressed as well. We had more counters but in the second half we are clearer and we take more control of the game at times.

"They have more of the ball than us, they pass more times with the ball. Anyway, [in terms of] opportunities I think we had the best ones and for me the most important in the game is the result. The result for us is on our side, so it's perfect."

United captain Harry Maguire said post-game: "We have brilliant coaches and a brilliant manager and brilliant analysts as well.

"Credit to them because they are the ones who sent us out in that formation and those tweaks when they have the ball. We knew they were going to keep the ball at times and the positions that they find themselves in, they have a lot of possession.

"We've seen that in recent games, so we had to be patient at times, but we had to make sure we kept getting up to the ball, kept getting contact, keep making tackles. I felt that we did that really well. 

"For sure we can improve, we can do better in parts of the game. But it's an important win, an important performance after a disappointing trip to London in midweek. Now we have to dust ourselves down and go again. We've got another big game on Thursday [against Milan in the Europa League last-16 first leg]."

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