Why the return of Luke Shaw feels like a new signing for Manchester United
A lot has been written and said about the way Manchester United; and new manager Jose Mourinho, have gone about their recruitment this summer, not least because of the arrivals of worldwide stars Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba to Old Trafford.
However, with Luke Shaw recently returning to first team action after his horrific double leg fracture back in mid-September, it looks like Mourinho could have a player on his hands that essentially feels like another brand new signing for the club.
The void that 21-year-old Shaw left behind in the left-back position after his injury was undeniably huge, and no matter who Louis van Gaal experimented with as his replacement nobody seemed to match the level of performance that Shaw had given in the first few games of the 2015/16 season.
Shaw’s return to competitive football after over six months out of football carried an air of fear for Manchester United supports though, as there was always a risk that he wouldn’t be able to replicate his pre-injury form or that one bad tackle to his fractured leg may cause him another lengthy spell on the side-lines.
On the complete contrary, Shaw has started the current season in impressive form and seems to have picked up exactly from where he left off eleven months ago, making the wide left position in defence his own once again as United look to have turned a corner after their defensive frailties of the past three years.
His performance against his old club Southampton was as solid as could be and showed the sort of form that the returning Shaw has, summed up by his marauding run into the opposition half that led to United’s penalty early in the second half.
This comes as a huge relief for United, who arguably would have been forced to delve deeper into their pockets this summer to find a replacement if Shaw struggled to settle back into the tempo of Premier League football.
Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Ashley Young and academy product Cameron Borthwick-Jackson were all tried and tested last campaign by Van Gaal, yet it seemed that these experimentations were always an act of desperation. None of the above are natural left-backs (other than CBJ), so it very much gave the perception that he was trying to fit a square peg into a round hole.
This is no detriment to the footballing ability of the above, though; if anything, it shows just how good a player Luke Shaw actually is, and how efficiently and effectively he plays out on the left.
Much like the great left-backs of United’s past; such as Dennis Irwin and Patrice Evra, Shaw has the natural instinct to join attacks and serve as another option – more often than not making himself available on the overlap to put crosses into the box. This style of play has reaped its rewards in the past, and with large target-man Ibrahimovic occupying the box this season Shaw’s ability to play in the left-midfield position and provide assists could prove key.
On top of this, it’s not just his ability to become part of an attack further up the field that makes the ex-Southampton man so reliable. He is also a very clever footballer, and a very clever defender at that. Unlike recent, well documented performances from Premier League players where wide defenders have been caught out of position far too often and too easily (eg. Moreno’s defending for Arsenal’s first goal the other week), United’s £30 million man has a knack for being in the right place at the right time.
The great thing for Manchester United is that, at only 21-years-old, Shaw’s performances at the moment are simply markers for his future potential.
Providing he stays injury free, there’s a chance that Shaw could be a mainstay of the United defence for at least the next decade; a thought that seemed in major doubt almost twelve months ago on a dark night in Eindhoven.
Although it will be the new additions of Ibrahimovic and Pogba that will share the headlines whenever Manchester United are mentioned at the moment, the impact that Shaw’s return will have to the team cannot be ignored.
With Shaw’s consistency at left-back, and with Mourinho beginning to consolidate United’s defensive issues of the past few years, it looks like the red side of Manchester could be in for an enthralling, and successful, season ahead.
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