For Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, the mantra was simple as his team faced Copenhagen in such a crucial Champions League match. “They need to step up,” the manager told his two most criticized players, Harry Maguire and Andre Onana. It was a special night as the club honored one of their best players and the manager said it best as he walked into the stadium: “Victory is our only option.”

The 30-year-old remembers when he was demoted to fifth in the list of central-defender options. The captaincy was lost, and the whispers about his future. Harry Maguire was never going to stand for that. Harry Maguire was never going to put up with being fifth behind Luke Shaw. Maguire was marked on the shaven head he was showing off when he powered Christian Eriksen’s superb cross into the far post with 18 minutes to go.

Andre Onana, a £47 million signing from Inter Milan by Ten Hag and well-known for his distribution, had been on the end of some criticism after some wayward diagonal passes in the first half — but he showed the good, too; making a fine save to deny Lukas Lerager and then displaying his penalty-saving ability to thwart Jordan Larsson at the death.

Onana showed the will to take responsibility and to show his personality on the pitch and for that he should be commended. Despite his problems he has gotten better in his performance. It was very visible against Copenhagen.

Ten Hag recognized this development by saying, “Don’t forget that brilliant save just after half-time in the counter-attack. And also don’t forget, one of his skills is that he’s a very good penalty saver.”

Harry Maguire too is possibly getting back to form at Manchester United. After much criticism and reminiscing over England performances, Maguire seems to be growing again in a United shirt. After a man of the match display at Sheffield United he scored his first goal since February 2022.

Maguire’s shift to the left side of central defense, a position he played before Ten Hag took over as manager, has contributed to his resurgence. This change has allowed him to create space for Lisandro Martinez, a combative Argentine defender who is sidelined due to foot surgery.

Ten Hag applauded Maguire’s proactive attitude to possession, vertical passing, defensive tenacity, and confidence in duels. He stated that Maguire is now dominating opponents and emphasized Christian Eriksen’s excellent assist that led to Maguire’s key goal.

In a season filled with ups and downs, Manchester United’s victory against Copenhagen showcased the resilience and growth of two players who, despite criticism and challenges, are stepping up when their team needs them most.

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