As recently as transfer deadline day back in October, the writing appeared to be on the wall for the Manchester United career of Luke Shaw. Prompted to enter the market for a new left back by the inconsistencies in the 25-year-old’s game, as well as his patchy fitness record, Alex Telles was signed from Porto, hinting at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s eagerness to solve a problem area.
The competition provided by Telles, however, has pushed Shaw to reach new heights. At long last, the full back is fulfilling the potential that convinced United to pay Southampton £27 million nearly seven years ago. In fact, Shaw might even be the best left back playing in the Premier League at this moment in time.
This has been underlined by the 25-year-old’s recent performances. Shaw was particularly impressive in Man Utd’s 9-0 win over Southampton, contributing two assists. Even against the highest calibre opponents, like Liverpool, the left back has caught the eye. Consistency, or a lack thereof, is no longer a problem.
Fundamentally, the biggest difference in Shaw’s game is in his productivity and final ball. While he failed to register a single assist in the Premier League last season, the 25-year-old has four assists in 19 appearances this season. Shaw has added another dimension to Manchester United’s play in the attacking third.
Telles has forced Luke Shaw to work on his crossing. This is the Brazilian’s best quality. Indeed, Telles was signed primarily on the basis of what he offers in the final third, contributing 11 goals and eight assists in 31 league appearances for Porto last season. Telles’ presence at Old Trafford has focused Shaw.
“Luke has immense quality,” Solskjaer explained after an impressive display by Shaw in the goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield last month. “He has a very good technique, good quality. You see against Liverpool, he takes the ball and drives forward, that is something that I have pushed him more to do because we know he can do it.
“It is generally down to the boy himself, mentally he is very good at the moment, he has become a dad. He is physically very good, his fitness is so much better and he keeps beating his high-intensity stats and his total distance stats. He has been consistently up there with what a full-back should be doing.”
Shaw’s development as an attacking full back has, however, exposed how much further Aaron Wan-Bissaka has to grow to reach the same levels on the right side of the Manchester United defence. It also provides hope that the 23-year-old can indeed follow the precedent established by his teammate.
One wonders what Gareth Southgate makes of Shaw’s recent performances. Not since 2018 has the 25-year-old played for England, but with Euro 2020 on the horizon he is perhaps Southgate’s best option in his position with Ben Chilwell not even assured of a first team place at Chelsea right now.
England will play three Euro 2022 qualifiers against San Marino, Albania and Poland in late March and Luke Shaw, if he can stay fit, will surely be included in the squad for those games. The 25-year-old has timed his good run of form well. If England were to start their Euro 2020 campaign tomorrow, Shaw would surely be in Southgate’s starting lineup.
Full backs have never been more important in football then they are now. The best teams tend to be well-equipped in this area of the pitch. It’s no coincidence that Manchester United’s recent rise into title contention, though seemingly not enough to guarantee Ole Gunnar Solskjaer a new contract, has come at the same time as Luke Shaw has hit a good run of form. The 25-year-old could carry this momentum into the summer with England.
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