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What Exactly Is The Story With Luke Shaw At Man Utd?

What Exactly Is The Story With Luke Shaw At Man Utd?
By Mikey Traynor

When Manchester United got off to a poor start under Jose Mourinho, the most common thing said about he and his Manchester United side up until November was that he did not yet know what his strongest team was.

How do you fit Wayne Rooney in? How do you get the best out of Paul Pogba? Do you need to manage Michael Carrick's games? Who is best suited to partner Eric Bailly or come in when he gets injured?

There were a lot of questions being asked, but it's safe to say as the results have improved and the team has gone on a run, that best team, or "base" as Zlatan Ibrahimovic often refers to it, has indeed been found.

Carrick, Ander Herrera, and Pogba are the nailed on midfield three. The most dangerous front line is Mkhitaryan, Martial, and Ibrahimovic, with Mata ready to come in depending on the style of the opponent, and while Valencia and De Gea are locks in their position, Jones and Rojo have made the centre-back spots their own thanks to an impressive defensive record through the duration of the run... But that leaves one spot unaccounted for.

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Matteo Darmian and Daley Blind have been the most common selections at left-back, but the former offers too little in attack (despite his fine assist for Marouane Fellaini against Hull in the League Cup), while the latter does not possess the pace required of someone who must mark a winger for 90 minutes.

If only Man United had a dynamic player who can get up and down the touchline at pace and offer both assistance to the left winger and security for the left-centre back... Hang on a minute, that sounds a lot like the Luke Shaw that Man Utd fans had fallen in love with before his season was ended by that shocking injury in Eindhoven in October 2015.

Luke Shaw at his best is exactly the player that Man Utd need, and yet he has become somewhat of a forgotten man as his last appearance came in November, right as the club took off on this run that has seen them return to relevance in terms of the top four chase.

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But you couldn't call him a forgotten man, mainly because every match day you'll see United fans asking why he hasn't been given a spot on the bench, or wondering when he will be given a chance to return. So what exactly is the story with Luke Shaw?

Is he injured?

No.

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Having started the season as first-choice left back Shaw was publicly criticised by his manager for his performance against Watford in September. Despite making six starts in the league, his last appearance came in November in the EFL Cup at West Ham where he was substituted at half-time. Shaw then went on to withdraw himself from being able to participate in an away trip to Swansea later in the month, and that niggling injury (which was again criticised by Mourinho) saw him face a spell on the sidelines.

But he's fit again. Ahead of the Premier League clash with Middlesbrough on New Year's Eve, Mourinho claimed that Shaw had recovered from injury but was lacking match fitness.

Luke Shaw is training without any problem, but I don’t think he’s ready to start.

This meant that the England international was expected to play against either Reading in the FA Cup, or Hull in the EFL Cup, as Mourinho had a chance to rotate, but Shaw was not included in the squad for either game.

Does Mourinho just not rate him?

This is something that many fans are starting to think is the case, as with links to a return for Patrice Evra coinciding with Shaw being overlooked for squads, having been participating in training makes it look ominous. Add to that the fact that Mourinho had singled him out for critisim earlier in the year, and you've got a recipe for speculation, but it is highly unlikely that the Portuguese has given up on him.

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Mourinho is yet to really see what Luke Shaw can offer. His best run in the side, at the start of last season under Van Gaal, is long enough ago that people seem to be forgetting how good he was until his leg break.

According to the latest reports, Mourinho knows the ability that Shaw possesses and will look to ease him back in soon.

Is this Mkhitaryan all over again?

To a lesser degree, it seems that it is.

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While the Armenian was removed from the spotlight after a slow start in England, saved until he was up to speed and ready to have an impact, Shaw's situation is difficult as recovering from such an horrific injury was always going to need patience.

It is difficult to know whether or not Shaw would have been playing, or would have been allowed time to truly get physically and mentally ready to return, had he not been suffering from niggling injuries, but the combination of the two are why he has been absent for so long.

That said, speaking after the Liverpool game, Jose Mourinho suggested it was a tactical reason why Shaw did not feature.

When you have Antonio Valencia playing as a right winger you cannot defend with two players. You need that third player to give some cover inside and to keep some balances, and he [Matteo Darmian] did that well.

That fixture would not have been ideal to throw him back in and hope he finds his feet, but it's interesting that Mourinho thinks of Shaw as a more attack-minded full-back like Valencia.

Is he actually important for the team?

Absolutely.

While Mourinho praised Matteo Darmian's defensive performance against Liverpool, he was also a big part of the reason that Anthony Martial had no impact on the game, as the Frenchman was completely isolated which made it easy for Liverpool to double, and on occasion triple-team him. This was less of a problem for Martial last season with Rojo behind him as he was not yet identified as one of United's biggest threats as he is now.

When Shaw plays, whoever is playing ahead of him visibly benefits as his overlapping runs put doubt and confusion in the minds of the opposition defenders and allow the winger free reign to cut inside, or play the ball for Shaw to cross.

Shaw's injury last season is even seen as a major reason why Memphis Depay's Man Utd career never took off. The two had built up a rapport and Depay made a promising start to life at Old Trafford without setting the world on fire, but after Shaw was removed from the equation we never saw the same impact.

At the beginning of last season, Shaw had a year of experience at Man Utd under his belt was showing exactly what he was capable of. It was the only period of his United career so far, and the supporters were brought to their feet on numerous occasions by fantastic challenges and outstanding runs, one of which (against Brugge in the Champion League) showed off his incredible pace.

With left-back being the one position where Manchester United still need a solution, a fully fit Luke Shaw would be like a new signing for the club, as much of a cliché as that is.

In Darmian they have a capable defender (also prone to the odd wobbler of a performance) who is ineffective as he awkwardly needs to cut in onto his right foot to play the ball, and in Blind they have a clever footballer who is a big asset with the ball, but just isn't suited to the position in terms of pace and positioning.

Shaw is the perfect balance, so if Mourinho has been holding him back until he is 100% ready and expects him to come into the team and make the position his own, fantastic. The decision will likely be praised as we have seen with Mkhitaryan.

But if Mourinho is not convinced and Shaw does not feature regularly between now and the end of the season, it may be time to look for an actual new signing, rather than hope Shaw has the effect of one.

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