Luke Shaw’s form shows growth in Manchester United squad

It was all the way back in 2014 when Manchester United spent £30m, a then record for a teenager, on young defender Luke Shaw from Southampton.

He was seen as the next big prospect for the national team and the Red Devils moved to stay in-keeping with their tradition of snapping up the countries best young talents to bring him to Old Trafford.

He started relatively well under Louis van Gaal, but had issues with fitness and confidence after moving away from home for the first time. He made just 20 appearances in all competitions, with Daley Blind becoming the first choice left-back as the season progressed.

After a summer break where Shaw took on a personal trainer and worked hard to get in tip-top condition, he came back and looked phenomenal. He was strong, fast, good on the ball and a threat going forward as Van Gaal’s men started the season brilliantly.

Then that injury against PSV Eindhoven, where he suffered a compound fracture of his leg and an ankle dislocation. He missed seven months of action before returning to training, and didn’t play a game until the Community Shield win over Leicester the following season.

UEFA Champions League - "PSV Eindhoven v Manchester United" : News Photo

By this point Jose Mourinho was now in charge and that was a problem for Shaw. The two never got on, with Mourinho constantly criticising him publicly for not being in shape and not being able to play through the pain barrier.

Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has come into the role of manager Shaw has been the first choice left-back at the club, for better or for worse. While he provided natural width, simply by being left-footed at left-back as opposed to Ashley Young playing there, he was not the attacking threat he used to be.

He was very safe in possession, playing sideways very often and not overlapping to help in attack. His performances were good enough to earn him the Player of the Year award from fans in 2019, but many believed United needed to upgrade on him to progress.

The same was said at the end of the 2019/20 season, when Shaw continued to be average. He wasn’t bad, he did a job, but he wasn’t at the level that a Manchester United player should be at. Especially not in their sixth season at the club anyway.

But this season something has switched for Shaw. He is aggressive, strong, fast and an offensive threat yet again. He has seemingly rediscovered his ability to cross the ball well, which made him a threat at Southampton, but is also now going into 50/50’s to win them not just to compete.

He is effective in the final third with the ball, beating players with speed and good ball-carrying but has also arguably been Manchester United’s best defender this season.

Many are crediting the signing of Alex Telles from FC Porto as providing him with the kick up the back side needed, with added competition for his position in the side acting as a catalyst. But I think that it may be something else.

I think that someone who has a history for being fragile mentally just needed to be built up again.

Manchester United v RB Leipzig: Group H - UEFA Champions League : News Photo

He never felt the love under Mourinho and despite playing plenty of games, he never quite looked like he had got over that horrific leg injury from 2015. Now, with a manager who trusts him fully and doesn’t publicly slate him or drop him at the first sign of bad form, he looks full of confidence.

Mentally, he has overcome that psychological hurdle and is flying. On current form, it’s hard to make a case that there is a better English left-back right now. While it’s still early to make bold claims like that, he is definitely in the hunt to start progressing through the levels that many believed he could hit when he was just 17-years-old starting for the Saints in the Premier League.

He’s in his seventh season at Old Trafford after two seasons of first team football in the Premier League before that with Southampton and is still only 25-years-old.

It’s easy to forget how young he is with all he’s been through, but he’s back to his best and it’s only a positive for Manchester United and England.

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