Former Manchester United manager Louis van Gaal once proclaimed that 2015 would be “The year of Luke Shaw”, but that ended up taking a while to materialize. The left-back has suffered so many more lows than ups in his Red Devils shirt, but the Dutch manager’s prediction is finally becoming reality this term.
It really feels like we have been watching the defender’s career for a long time, but he’s only 25 years old. Still young, the Englishman has shaken off fierce criticism by top managers, suffered cruel injuries, and spent quite a while on bench-warming duty to become one of Manchester United’s most important players this season. One could even think Shaw is on the short list alongside Bruno Fernandes to earn Manchester United’s Player of the Year award. At least his eye-catching results have earned him a recall to England’s national team.
Just last Sunday, it was Shaw’s accurate cross that enabled Harry Kane to open the scoring in a 2-0 victory over Albania. The left-back has all the qualities to secure a place in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the upcoming European championship this summer. His performance showed why Manchester United decided to spend £30m to sign him from Southampton in 2014, then a world record fee for a teenager.
The Red Devils are currently second in the EPL behind leaders Manchester City with nine games left to play, on track to better last season’s third-place finish. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s men were dumped out of the FA Cup at the quarter-final stage by Leicester at the King Power Stadium when they suffered a 3-1 defeat.
That result means that the Red Devils are now left competing for a top-four finish and the Europa League this season. One thing is for certain, Luke Shaw has been critical to the progress of improvement made at the Old Trafford.
It has been almost six years since Van Gaal’s prediction about Shaw, but since then, United has clinched an FA Cup, a League Cup and the Europa League trophy without the youngster as part of the journey during the finals. However, tables have turned; if the Red Devils do manage to claim a spot in this year’s Europa final in Poland, Shaw starting is a no-brainer now.
Unfortunately, injuries have been a chronic part of Shaw’s fascinating career, especially the broken leg in September 2015 against PSV Eindhoven.
Several managers, including Van Gaal, Roy Hodgson, and Gareth Southgate questioned his determination in his fitness regimen, but the level of criticism ramped up publicly under Jose Mourinho who questioned his bravery and desire to play.
“Luke Shaw told me this morning that he was not in the condition to play so we had to build a defensive line,” Mourinho said prior to a United game. “There is a difference between the brave, who want to be there at any cost, and the ones for whom a little pain can make a difference.”
In 2017, Mourinho took a dig at Shaw again while praising Nemanja Matic: “Matic was an island of personality, desire, and control surrounded by a lack of personality, a lack of class, and a lack of desire,” he said.
Some felt Shaw was scapegoated by the Portuguese firebrand, but in 2018 the defender took everything upon himself, stood his ground and went to Dubai during his holidays with his personal trainer to come back sharper, running on beaches and doing workouts which Mourinho found impressive. This is where many acknowledge that Shaw’s mental strength became pivotal to his more recent success.
Mourinho’s dismissal in December 2018 and the arrival of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is the key moment in the rehab of the defender’s performances. Shaw looks more comfortable with the Norwegian’s trust and faith than any manager he was worked under so far. The current United boss feels that the youngster’s qualities match with his ideology of fullbacks pressing forward to attack.
Solskjaer made his faith in Shaw clear almost 14 months ago when he suggested he could be the best left-back in England. Now the Englishman is beginning to support that claim. At the same time, the 25-year-old attributes his Manchester United form to the way he has been man-managed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
At Carrington, Shaw spent more time in training for set-pieces, and the result can be seen on the pitch. Shaw is in the best form of his Old Trafford career, having played 36 times this season. He also has a goal to his name – against Manchester City – and has chipped in with six assists.
There was a time when the 25-year-old was having doubts about his position even under Solskjaer, when United signed Alex Telles from Porto towards the end of the preseason transfer window to offer sterner competition at left-back. However, this provided a boost in motivation that stands out now.
Off the field, many close to Shaw believe the defender matured the moment he became a father for the first time in November 2019. Solskjaer also gives credit to the influence of his fatherhood on his development.
Shaw hasn’t played for his national side since 2018. He had already earned three England caps by the time he switched to Old Trafford, but managed only five more until Gareth Southgate gave him the nod again on Sunday. Injuries and time on the bench undermined the left-back’s chances for the national team, but this season’s improved fitness and playing time put him back into the left-back position for England, ahead of Chelsea’s Ben Chilwell.
In the world of fantasy, Luke Shaw has been in career-best form. The left-back has earned 35 points in his past four matches, and he’s still at a great value at £5.2m. Over the last six games, only Raphinha (21) has created more chances than Shaw’s 16, which is why he managed to deliver the most points among defenders last month. The Englishman has created more chances (50) than any other defender in the Premier League this term.
He was amongst the most transferred-in players during GW-28. Given his price and the four clean sheets plus a goal in his previous four fixtures, plenty of managers kept him in GW-29. The left-back even has more assists than any of Pep Guardiola’s defenders.
His final nine league fixtures are against Brighton (H), Tottenham (A), Burnley (H), Leeds (A), Liverpool (H), Aston Villa (A), Leicester (H), Fulham (H) and Wolves (A). Despite having tough fixtures coming up, Shaw’s influence on the pitch should provide enough points for his price-tag.
Shaw will be motivated to secure a Champions League spot till the end of the season. He will strive for top form to chase silverware in the Europa League as well.
It has been a rollercoaster six years for the left-back at Old Trafford, but the famous Louis van Gaal prediction is finally coming true; it really is the time of Luke Shaw.
[All stats and quotes sourced from Goal.com, and Fantasypremierleague.com]
Is Luke Shaw in your fantasy plans for the rest of the season? What do you think of his journey? Any predictions on the number of clean sheets and assists Shaw finish with? Do you think Shaw’s performance has been his career-best this season? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below!