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The resurgence of Luke Shaw at Manchester United

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After years blighted by injury and unfulfilled potential, Shaw is now becoming the player we’d always hoped he’d be

Fulham v Manchester United - Premier League Photo by Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images

In what has been one of Manchester United’s finest seasons since the departure of manager Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, left-back Luke Shaw has emerged as one of United’s stars and most important players this Premier League campaign.

The 25-year-old has been in superb form since returning from a hamstring injury in November. Shaw is playing the confident, attacking style of football United fans always expected to see from the defender in his six seasons as a Red Devil.

His performance in last Sunday’s goalless draw against Liverpool at Anfield earned him his first Man of the Match award of the season. According to Manchester United’s YouTube channel, Shaw made 80% of his passes, 17 sprints forward into the opposing half, and two key passes in Liverpool’s box in addition to containing the league’s leading goalscorer, Mohamed Salah.

Following the match, Shaw credited his success to manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and fellow left-back Alex Telles in an interview with MUTV.

“I feel really good,” Shaw said. “Obviously, big credit to Ole for that, believing in me and pushing me, and of course Alex as well.”

United signed Telles from Portuguese side FC Porto in October to compete with Shaw for the starting position at left-back. Shaw said the Brazilian has helped bring out the best in him.

“We have a great relationship, and he pushes me each day in training. It’s nice to have that sort of competition, but we sort of push each other to get the best out of ourselves.”

Solskjaer sung Shaw’s praises ahead of United’s 2-1 victory over Fulham on Wednesday in an interview with Manchester United’s website.

“Luke has immense quality. He has a very good technique, good quality. You see against Liverpool, he takes the ball and drives forward. That is something that I have pushed him more to do because we know he can do it.”

The left-back continues to display his desire to get on the ball and create chances. Time and time again, Shaw uses his pace to join the attack, play one-twos with forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, overlap them to get into good crossing positions, and whip balls into the box with his left foot to create scoring chances.

His offensive statistics speak for themselves. Shaw has completed 82% of his passes, taken 28 touches in the opponent’s box, and created 31 chances, according to Manchester United’s website. He ranks second in the team in expected assists per game with 2.3 (only behind Bruno Fernandes’ 6.4), fourth with 1,023 touches, fifth with 716 completed passes, and fifth with 19 successful dribbles, per FBRef.com.

Shaw’s ability to go forward and whip inswinging balls into dangerous areas from the left wing has translated into another aspect of the game—set pieces. The left-back has become a set piece specialist this season, taking left-sided corners while Fernandes takes them from the right. He has whipped in 31 corners and 63 crosses this season, per the Premier League.

He’s been disciplined defensively as well, ranking fourth in the team with 35 players tackled, fifth with 29 blocks, and fifth with 19 aerial duels won.

The Englishman’s resurgence is significant being that his career at United has been a rollercoaster ride riddled with injuries. Touted as one of the most promising left-backs in the world, United signed 19-year-old Shaw from Southampton in July 2014 for a then world record £30 million transfer fee for a teenager. It didn’t take long before he fell victim to injury, however, and began missing significant time on the field. Shaw missed the most time (288 days and 51 matches) after fracturing his tibia and fibula against PSV Eindhoven in the UEFA Champions League in 2015. In total, he has missed 711 days and 120 matches since the 2014/15 season due to injuries, according to TransferMarkt.us.

Back to full fitness, however, Shaw has proven that he’s the player fans and the club always knew he could be.

“When you have the talent of Luke, when that fitness and the mental bit is sorted, then you are always going to get good performances,” Solskjaer said.

An integral aspect to Shaw’s success this season is his relationship with Solskjaer. The manager said he frequently talks to the defender, giving Shaw the comfort and confidence boost needed to perform at his highest level.

“It is about seeing everyone as individuals and human beings,” Solskjaer said. “I did spend a lot of time talking to the individuals and Luke as well. He is a boy I enjoy talking to and I enjoy trying to help him, he wants to be better.”

Shaw has found this kind of relationship hard to come by with past managers. José Mourinho infamously said Shaw used “his body with my brain” in a match against Everton in 2017, demonstrating the manager had little faith in Shaw’s football IQ. Nevertheless, Shaw has earned his current manager’s respect and praise.

England national team manager Gareth Southgate believes the future is bright for Shaw, too. With the postponed UEFA Euro 2020 tournament set to kick off on June 11, Southgate has not ruled out a spot for Shaw in the squad.

“The door is certainly open,” Southgate said to journalist Simon Peach in October after Shaw was left out of England’s UEFA Nations League team. “He’s more than capable of being the best left-back in the country, in my opinion.”