Undermined by Mourinho, labelled ‘unfit’ by Van Gaal and a horrific broken leg have made Luke Shaw’s eight years at Man United a rollercoaster… now he’s thriving (as a centre back!) under Ten Hag
- Luke Shaw has thrived at centre back for Manchester United since the World Cup
- The defender helped nullify Erling Haaland as United beat City 2-1 in the derby
- Left back has experienced many highs and lows in nearly nine years at United
- He suffered a broken leg early on and had issues with manager Jose Mourinho
- But he’s flourishing under Erik ten Hag, who was full of praise for Shaw this week
Saturday was Manchester United’s biggest game of the season and who did Erik ten Hag start at centre back?
World Cup champion and four-time Champions League winner Raphael Varane? Of course.
And who partnered him? Was it another world champion in Lisandro Martinez, captain Harry Maguire or Sweden international Victor Lindelof?
Luke Shaw (right) played a key role in defence as Manchester United beat Manchester City 2-1
The natural left back didn’t look out of place as a left-sided centre back for United once again
The answer was none of that trio but Luke Shaw – a makeshift centre back.
A natural left back, makeshift would not be a fair assessment of the defensive display he put on in helping contain Manchester City star Erling Haaland and Pep Guardiola’s array of stars.
Speaking ahead of tonight’s trip to Crystal Palace, Erik ten Hag was effusive in his praise of Shaw and the way he has bounced back from early-season issues.
The Dutchman dropped Shaw after the first two Premier League games but brought him back into the fold after missing the next five league games. Ever since, he hasn’t put a foot wrong.
‘I like that he’s so honest,’ Ten Hag said on the eve of the trip to Selhurst Park. ‘After the second game he didn’t play and said: “I fully understand, my performance is not right.” But from the first day in training at pre-season he was working really hard and you can see when he has the right approach he’s a top player.
‘I don’t mean only as a team player; he’s a leader. He’s shown a lot of leadership capacities – he’s the example at this moment – and with his skills and his physical power he brings a lot.
City star striker Erling Haaland (centre left) was kept quiet by Shaw and United’s defence
‘Now, also with his mentality. He’s an example of how to win big games. I’m really happy with his development. It’s been huge either at centre-half or left full-back. He’s a great player and a great personality for the dressing room.
‘It (playing him at centre back against City) is a big decision but when you analyse the profile of Haaland and the combination with De Bruyne it was also the right decision because Luke has the physical power to compete with them and has the tactical view to make the right decision and technical skills to play in that position.
‘It matched really well but in other games he can contribute even more on the left in the wide positions, so it’s a tactical choice and we can see from game to game what we need. We have more players in our squad who have the capacity to be multi-functional and we can use that as a weapon.’
The end result? A tactical masterstroke as Shaw and his team-mates nullified Haaland, who had 27 goals in 23 appearances coming into Saturday’s Manchester derby – including a hat-trick in the reverse fixture as City won 6-3.
However, come Saturday the Norway international was a peripheral figure in the 2-1 Premier League defeat at Manchester United, having only a couple of half-chances and just 19 touches in the match.
Shaw’s recent emergence as a centre back is the latest high in a rollercoaster career at Old Trafford that has included some lows as he approaches nine years at the Theatre of Dreams.
The 27-year-old has been at United since 2014 experiencing many highs and lows in that time
After the 2014 World Cup, Shaw became the most expensive teenager in world football when United paid Southampton £31million to acquire his services after shining on the south coast and earning England recognition.
It was seen as a coup for the Red Devils as they beat Chelsea to his signature. Shaw was a boyhood Chelsea fan too.
Earmarked as the replacement for club legend Patrice Evra, Shaw’s first campaign bore the hallmark of many campaigns at United so far: injury.
Before the season started he suffered a hamstring injury and also had manager Louis van Gaal expressing concerns over his fitness. He was put on a special training programme by Van Gaal during United’s tour of America after the Dutch coach noticed a problem with his general conditioning.
‘He is OK, but I am always a trainer-coach who sees individuals and what they need,’ Van Gaal said. ‘He needs to be fit and is not very fit and fit enough to do what I want. He needs to train individually until he is fit.’
After a mixed debut campaign at United, the full back started his second season in electric fashion.
With Memphis Depay now at the club, the pair quickly developed a rapport down the left flank. That was until September 15, 2015 and a Champions League group match against PSV Eindhoven.
He became the world’s most expensive teenager when he joined United for £31m in 2014
Shaw’s night and season were curtailed after being on the receiving end of a shocking tackle by Hector Moreno which resulted in a horrific double fracture of his right leg.
Having been forced to miss England’s Euro 2016 campaign, it wasn’t until 328 days later that Shaw made his first-team comeback for United. Under a new manager in Jose Mourinho, he played 68 minutes of their 2-1 Community Shield win over Leicester City on August 7, 2016.
That 2016-17 term and the subsequent 2017-18 were tough ones for the England international under Mourinho. Seemingly at odds, Mourinho wasn’t afraid to publicly admonish Shaw.
The lowest point came in March 2018 during a FA Cup quarter-final win over Brighton.
Surprisingly hooked at half-time, it was understood that even some of Shaw’s team-mates began to feel that he was being ‘bullied’ by Mourinho. This was 11 months after Mourinho said he had ‘to change his football brain’ following a 1-1 draw with Everton in the Premier League.
Shaw made 40 appearances last season for United and signed a new four-year deal until 2023 in November 2018 before Mourinho was axed the following month.
Shaw’s career took a turn for the worse when he suffered a double right leg fracture in 2015
Under Jose Mourinho (left), Shaw endured a difficult time – often publicly criticised by him
He appeared to have turned the corner as first-choice under Mourinho in 2018-19 and maintaining his spot under Solskjaer – while in turn returning to the England fold.
By late November 2019, Shaw had made just three appearances for the Red Devils in the 2019-20 campaign. All of those came in August before injury struck again during the 2-1 Premier League home defeat by Crystal Palace on August 24. This time it was a hamstring problem.
This coincided with the emergence of Brandon Williams, then 19, who grasped the opportunity to fill the void of Shaw with both hands – impressing Solskjaer and fans with displays beyond his tender years.
Shaw would go on to make 33 appearances that Covid-impacted season in all competitions, compared to Williams’ 36, where his campaign ended with an ankle injury suffered against LASK in the Europa last-16 second leg.
As well as Williams, Shaw also had to contend with the introduction of Alex Telles in 2020-21 – with the Brazil international bought from Porto.
Shaw fell behind then-teenager Brandon Williams (right) in the pecking order in 2019-20
The extra competition sparked a renaissance in Shaw who cemented himself as the club’s first-choice left back – going on to make 47 appearances for the club in all competitions as United finished second in the Premier League and runners-up in the Europa League final.
His impressive displays under Solskjaer saw him become Gareth Southgate’s first-choice at left back for England too at the delayed Euro 2020 – even scoring the opener for England as they reached the final, losing to Italy on penalties in heartbreaking fashion at Wembley.
The hangover of that England campaign carried over into last season, where his slump in form coincided with United’s sharp decline under Solskjaer.
Often criticised, and with Alex Telles preferred ahead of him, Shaw struggled for fitness.
‘Personally the first half of the season for me was nowhere near where I can be, I know that. I picked up a lot of niggling injuries and haven’t been 100 per cent fit,’ he admitted in February.
His form in 2020-21 saw him be England’s No 1 left back at Euro 2020 – scoring in the final too
The 27-year-old’s future at United looked in trouble too this season upon Ten Hag’s arrival. The Dutchman’s first signing was a left back in Tyrell Malacia who quickly won over supporters with his tenacious displays at the start of the season.
Having started at left back in the first two defeats of the season to Brighton and Brentford, Shaw had to wait almost two months before being named in a Ten Hag XI.
That was in a 2-1 win at Everton and since then he has started the following 10 Premier League matches – winning Ten Hag over.
Shaw was England’s No 1 left back at the recent winter World Cup and found himself starting at centre back upon the resumption of United’s season on December 27.
It raised eyebrows among many but Shaw helped the defence keep a clean sheet in a 3-0 win against Nottingham Forest. Four days later he did the same in a 1-0 win at Wolves.
Tyrell Malacia (left) impressed during his early outings this season – usurping Shaw at left back
But Shaw knuckled down and has started United’s last 11 league games under Erik ten Hag
Jack Grealish’s header is the only goal that has breached United’s defence in the Premier League with Shaw at centre back.
It’s likely that Martinez will soon regain his place there, shifting Shaw to his natural position, but the England international stop-gap role has provided a welcome problem for Ten Hag.
Speaking after beating City, Shaw was effusive in praising the home support at Old Trafford.
‘It’s incredible, for me, I’ve been here a long time now, I think eight years. For me, today, the atmosphere was the best I’ve been involved in.
The 27-year-old is a beacon of happiness at present as his form has coincided with United’s rise
‘It shows the fans are with us, they’re pushing us in the right direction, and I hope they really enjoyed it today.
‘It shows the fans are with us, they’re pushing us in the right direction, and I hope they really enjoyed it today.’
A big part as to why they’re happy is because of the performances of their ‘makeshift’ centre back.
With United moving in the right direction, they’re on to a Shaw thing.
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