The career of Luke Shaw is one that aptly captures the trend of a heroic promise that is shattered with disaster, and following a rugged path to recovery, ends in salvation.
The English left-back had big things ahead of him from the ripe age of 16 itself, when at Southampton, he became a sight to be reckoned with, and by the time he was 18, Manchester United capitalized on his brilliance to make him the most expensive teenager in club football, before injury cut his debut season short.
Those woes have plagued him ever since, and the path to regaining his form was tough, made harder still by the critical presence of Jose Mourinho. However, while this season has spelled below-par showings for Manchester United as a team, Shaw has excelled as an individual, and has arguably been the side’s best performer.
Here’s why he is most certainly the solution to United’s long-held left-back woes:
At 23 years of age, it is his youth that is arguably the club’s biggest asset. Having slowly established his presence and worked his way up the roster, Shaw can now hope to remain at Old Trafford for the long term. This works, particularly well in tandem with Young’s growing age.
Shaw is a perfect one-up to Young, whose inexperience as a full-back is beginning to show. When compared to the veteran, the youngster packs way more speed and brings more all-round balance to the team. Further, his tendency to link up will be highly beneficial to attackers Sanchez and Lukaku, as the Belgian striker will get more opportunity to function solely as a clinical finisher.
This was in full view during the 2-0 win against Burnley, where both goals had Shaw orchestrating the origin. These link-ups, both with his fellow full-back across the field as well as with the attackers, is a force to be reckoned with, and echoes the classical United attacking style.
On an evolutionary note, his skill-set will help the Mancunian giants in developing a pressing style. This tendency to press high up in the field, often on the cusp of the final third, has been immensely beneficial for the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City.
Shaw’s speed and his defensive capability will aid United in finally integrating such an approach into their style and winning the ball early, a move that has been long overdue. If executed well, the club will no longer have to rely on merely timing their counter-attacks from the other end, a ploy that is increasingly becoming over-predictable, particularly in a Jose Mourinho side.
What he brings to the shape of the formation is also crucial. Since Shaw isn’t hesitant at making pacey forward runs, an attacking width will be maintained throughout. This is starkly different from Young, who is more apt to cut in or pass the ball early, a surprise given his background as an attacking winger. However, with Shaw on the ball, United can compensate for the lack of offensive punch that Mourinho’s more defensive tactics tend to result in.
The manager himself took an enormous turn on his critical assessment of the left-back, hailing him to be a complete player. This is due to the complementary nature of his defensive skill-set and attacking tendency. What is particularly interesting is Shaw’s ability to take out the entire opposition’s defense with a well-timed attacking run on the flank. This leaves his teammates with the simple task of finding him, and allows him to take advantage of the free space that is created, apt to set up a goal.
Lastly, former Arsenal defender Martin Keown laid out the potential future for Shaw when he declared in a recent interview: “If Shaw keeps getting down that wing and keeps making things happen, then there is no reason why he could not be England’s equivalent of Benjamin Mendy for Manchester City.”
The French left-back has been a crucial cog in City’s recent success, and if Mourinho is able to stay consistent on his faith in Shaw, then the youngster can do the same and complete his hero’s arc, establishing himself as a vital presence in Manchester in the process.