Luke Shaw has been the embodiment of United’s misfortunes in the harsh reality that the club without Ferguson at the helm looks like. Every time progress seems to be made with United, something sends us back crashing down to earth. Every time we are on our knees, a glimmer of hope always draws us back in. Luke Shaw’s time at United mirrors this in a lot of ways.
When Luke Shaw signed for Louis Van Gaal’s United from Southampton in 2014, he showed all the promise of being the marauding full back who would be a fitting replacement to the hole that Patrice Evra left in that summer. There was serious excitement at his signing, but this was heavily outweighed by Louis Van Gaal’s insistence that Luke Shaw was unfit in pre-season. It was only really until the following season where we saw good performances from the former Saints full back, who formed a formidable personal and footballing bond with Memphis Depay on the left hand side. But like above, it proved a false dawn once more, as Luke Shaw broke his leg from a forceful and dangerous Hector Moreno challenge against PSV.
This theme has continued throughout most of his time here since that tragic footballing moment for him in the Champions League tie in Eindhoven. He was embarrassed through needing to be coached through the game by Jose Mourinho and was out in the cold for much of the Portuguese’s time in the hot-seat, up until the final season, where he provided some fantastic performances for United.
Similarly, this form tailed off and he suffered a miserable 2019 in most respects, failing to stay fit and struggling for reliable performances as a result. He even fell behind the youthful Brandon Williams in the pecking order.
However, something has seemed to have clicked with him. United have been playing Luke Shaw at times on the left hand side of a back three, allowing him to be covered by Brandon Williams on the left flank. He has put in a string of impressive performances there, notably against Chelsea and Manchester City away in the cup, providing last ditch tackles and clearances throughout. He also has shown impressive defensive positioning and awareness, blocking squared balls and covering the gaps left by Maguire and Williams to the side of him.
Furthermore, he has been much more impressive than he has been when playing as an out and out fullback too. Arguably, the defensive protection that a consistent and increasingly fruitful combination in midfield provides, has allowed the fullbacks to be able to be more expansive. Shaw had a particularly good game against Derby, getting a rare goal and an assist, with the goal being a clever first time volley into the ground which found its way into the far corner.
He looks a completely different player to what we saw the majority of the time in 2019. He has had a barrage of criticism, some fair and some very much less so, which made many believe that his time at United was on a knife-edge. This was particularly the case given the emergence of Brandon Williams and the several encouraging performances we saw from the teenager in his breakthrough. That being said, credit must be given to Shaw for his recent form.
The real question is whether the last few weeks have been another false dawn in his time at the club. His form coincides with a nine game unbeaten run going into the Derby game at the weekend and it remains to be seen whether this form can be maintained by him or not.
As argued above, you could say the same about United as you are about Shaw, and hoping the nine game unbeaten run does not constitute a false dawn. We will see in the coming weeks, and the crucial games in all three competitions coming up, whether this can be seen as a sign of things to come for Shaw and the club as a whole.