RAPHAEL VARANE’S injury could have handed Harry Maguire a World Cup lifeline.

The question is – with just three weeks to go before the big kick off in Qatar – is has it come too late?

Manchester United ace Harry Maguire may have the chance to join England


Manchester United ace Harry Maguire may have the chance to join EnglandCredit: AP

The £80million defender has just four more Manchester United matches to try to play his way into Gareth Southgate’s first team.

And the Three Lions boss – who was in the directors box for this one – will be hoping he can play in all of them.

Because he clearly needs matches under his belt after such a nightmare season so far.

Maguire’s place as first-choice centre-back in Qatar next month is currently hanging by a thread.

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He overcame a nervy start here to play his part in keeping a clean sheet and preserving another crucial three points for United.

But this was his first Premier League start since the horror show at Brentford on August 13 and early on it showed.

Much has happened at United since that disastrous 4-0 defeat at Brentford and the fact is Maguire is currently fourth choice in the list of centre-backs for his club.

However an injury to Varane and Victor Lindelof’s knock meant he was promoted back into the starting line-up by Erik ten Hag.

It has been the worst possible prep for Maguire.  He has started only one game since that nightmare day in West London – a Europa League defeat to Real Sociedad.

And in the last international camp at the end of September he suffered a hamstring injury in the 3-3 draw with Germany.

During his time on the sidelines, Varane and Lisandro Martinez have established themselves as the first-choice centre-back pairing.

And that will be a concern to Southgate, who has always shown great loyalty to the former Leicester man.


Manchester United star Raphael Varane has been sidelined with an injury


Manchester United star Raphael Varane has been sidelined with an injuryCredit: Rex

Both Eric Dier and John Stones have made their case for selection with their performances so that was always going to be tested.

At least now, following Varane’s unfortunate injury at Chelsea last weekend, Maguire will have his chance to prove he should start against Iran.

It couldn’t be more timely for the 29-year-old although even so, it isn’t ideal for him.

Southgate likes to utilise Maguire on the left of a centre-back pairing – where he can link up with his club-mate Luke Shaw.

His chance with United will come on the right as Martinez has made the other slot his own in recent weeks.

While Maguire walked out with the armband on, he must have been grateful for the encouragement of his Argentinian defensive partner early on.

England boss Gareth Southgate may call Harry Maguire up for the World Cup


England boss Gareth Southgate may call Harry Maguire up for the World CupCredit: EPA

Maguire got 45 minutes against Moldovan side Sheriff in midweek but this was a different proposition – and he looked nervous and a little rusty.

He lunged in on Hammers forward Gianluca Scamacca early on – only for the Italian to neatly side-step him and set up Said Benrahma on the counter.

In the second half he got lucky as Jarrod Bowen went for the nutmeg on the edge of the box but then collided with the centre-back – and was unlucky not to win a free-kick.

Maguire showed a bit of experience and composure to shepherd the ball to safety away from Scamacca as the visitors began to get on top.

The introduction of Michail Antonio midway through the second half gave Maguire and Martinez a different kind of problem to deal with.

As the Hammers pushed for an equaliser, Maguire did his bit in keeping them at bay.

Much to ponder then for Southgate as he made his way back over the Pennines to his Yorkshire home.