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The (Kind of) Year of Luke Shaw

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It may not have been a word-class season for the young fullback, but it was the step forward he needed

Original artwork via https://www.behance.net/fvalladarec025

Luke Shaw has had one of the most up and down Manchester United careers in recent memory. From being considered a talented prospect at the left-back position to playing only 22 games in the Premier League in the 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons combined, Shaw has finally taken a step forward.

Before his gruesome injury in the 2015/16 season, Shaw had been playing the best football of his career. While he may not have reached similar heights this season, he’s still only 23, making him an interesting player going forward for United. While injury concerns have plagued his career thus far, he’s still a physically imposing fullback with the pace to get up field quickly.

He wasn’t the best defender on the team by any means, but he showed enough quality on the defensive end this season to be considered Manchester United’s starting left-back next season. He even managed to win the Players’ Player of the Year and Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year awards, which is a far cry from where he was only a year ago.

Shaw played in a total of 40 games in all competitions this season, playing 90 minutes in 39 of those games. Considering his extended injury history, this was the biggest leap forward he could have taken. If he’s able to continue playing consistent minutes, next season could be another good developmental year for Shaw en route to reaching his potential.

Additionally, he managed to notch a career-high five assists in all competitions and scored his first goal. With United looking to attack from the wing on a consistent basis, Shaw’s potential ability to get up field could play an important role in United’s attacking strategy going forward.

While his crossing ability and aggressiveness in the final third could still use some refining, Shaw took significant steps forward this season in that respect. His improved crossing was rewarded with the responsibility of taking corners, as he took 15 of them. Nonetheless, Shaw could still develop a better feel for where to place the ball while in motion, as he tends to not get enough power behind his crosses.

Improving his offensive repertoire may be the biggest difference maker next season. When fully fit, Shaw’s physical abilities on the wing are seemingly unmatched, as his combination of size and speed is pretty unique among most fullbacks. If he’s able to piece together his ability to get forward, he could be a devastating presence in the final third.

On the defensive end, Shaw managed to lead United in total tackles this season, with 55. That tally only puts him at 64th in the entire Premier League, but it’s something that should continue to improve considering Shaw’s trajectory this season. He has a solid base skillset to work off of, as he is a naturally good defender with solid instincts for cutting passing lanes and using his body to his advantage when tackling.

With a sturdy frame at 6’1”, Shaw is also an exceptional aerial defender, as he won 49 aerial duels. Despite being injury prone, Shaw is still willing to fight for possession and put his body on the line, which is a commendable trait in his game.

Nevertheless, Shaw’s lack of fitness was more prevalent towards the end of the season, as he was caught out of position on plenty of occasions. His abysmal work rate at the tail end of the season was a cause for concern, but it’s something that can easily be adjusted with a solid workout plan this offseason.

Overall, Shaw proved that he can be a solid contributor, but that will have to translate into winning football next season. When it’s all said and done, he was still part of a defensive unit that conceded 54 goals in the Premier League alone. That kind of play won’t fly next season, and would surely cast doubt over Shaw’s viability in the starting lineup.

Shaw’s improvements should exclude him from this summer’s mass exodus, but next season will be crucial in his overall development. The 23-year-old still has many areas where he could improve, but he can use this season as a springboard to continue growing for years to come. In a couple years, fans may even look back to this season as the year he finally put it all together.