It seems crazy to think that the loss of a left-back could have such negative ramifications for a team of the size of Manchester United, especially at 20 years old, but while the list of injuries at Old Trafford continues to grow, few players are missed more than Luke Shaw.
He started the season in the type of form that began to fully justify his £27m price tag. Attacking like Patrice Evra in his final years at United, but actually defending well too, Shaw had made an area that other teams looked to target an area of strength, and his loss for the majority of the season has been sorely missed.
Since he was stretchered off with an oxygen tank against PSV, United have struggled to score, to create, to defend, and are out of the Champions League, and while his absence is certainly not an excuse, or the defining reason for the situation the club finds itself in, Luke Shaw's injury has played a massive role.
Memphis Depay made a good first impression at Manchester United. Early in the season the young Dutchman had the Old Trafford faithful out of their seats as he took on players, whipped in crosses, and looked a goal threat, but now the common trend among United fans appears to be to compare him to Nani.
The reason for Depay's dip (now in danger of being upgraded to a full on slump) in performances is down almost entirely to not having Shaw behind him.
As a left winger, Memphis absolutely needs overlapping runs from his full-back. You can see above that he has to actually force Matteo Darmian to make the run, whereas Luke Shaw makes that run all day every day. This allows Memphis to cut inside, and more importantly, not be double-marked with ease.
Whether it has been Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, or even Ashley Young playing behind Memphis, none offer him the security that Shaw does, and had the two be allowed to continue their early and obvious rapport, opinions on the young winger would be a lot more favourable.
Attacks From Deep
Against Tottenham and Liverpool in particular, so much of Manchester United's attacking play came down the left hand side.
The balance was just right, as Matteo Darmian would focus more on the defensive side, occasionally offering a jaunt forward in support of an attack, whereas Shaw was up and down the touchline all game long. His dribbling is excellent, and perhaps ironically it was his fondness for a surging attacking run that saw him in on goal resulting in a desperation tackle from Hector Moreno that broke his leg.
Aside from Marcos Rojo's excellent assist against for Ander Herrera against Everton, United's fullbacks no longer have any sort of impact going forward.
Breaking Up The Best Back-4 United Fans Had Seen In Years
Nobody saw it coming, but it soon became apparent that a combination of Matteo Darmian at right-back, Chris Smaldini and Daley Blind in the middle, and Luke Shaw at left back were bringing a defensive solidity that United fans had not seen for years, even going back to Fergie's last seasons in charge.
It was so well balanced. Darmian as a defend-first fullback, Smalling the organiser with an occasional charge into the midfield, Blind the passer who started attacks from deep, and Shaw with the freedom to get forward at will.
When Shaw went down, the logical choice was to put Rojo there, until he was needed to play centre-back, and then got injured himself. And now everybody is injured and the likes of Cameron Borthwick-Jackson are making their debuts in the Champions League.
The Absence Of Pace
It's a fairly obvious one, but being one of the fastest players in the squad, Shaw's pace is badly missed by this slow and predictable Manchester United team.
While it was certainly an advantage going forward, this pace is sorely missed at the back, as shaw made a number of recovery challenges that simply would not have been possible for a slower player.
The best example of the pace that United are missing came against Club Brugge, where Shaw rescued a situation at right-back, then set a new British record for the 60m sprint before crossing a sublime ball into Rooney:
He's really fast.
That Night In Eindhoven
The first thing that Chris Smalling was asked in the post match interview after Luke Shaw broke his leg against PSV, was about Luke Shaw breaking his leg against PSV:
Because it did overshadow everything that night. Manchester United fans were less concerned by that result than they were by not only seeing Luke Shaw go down, but seeing their players react to it.
Manchester United were 1-0 up, and would have been 2-0 were it not for the challenge that broke his leg. After that, PSV came from behind and won 2-1, which in the end, along with the 0-0 at Old Trafford, that caused their elimination from the Champions League.
You can't simply say that Shaw's injury is why United are no longer in the competition, and nobody is trying to say that, but the United players were, understandably, a bit shaken by what happened in Holland, and couldn't get a result that they badly needed in the end.
It is highly unlikely that Luke Shaw will get back to the level that he was at before the injury in this current season. There is talk of Van Gaal looking for a left-back to take his place in the interim, but it's clear that the Dutch manager was counting on his young left-back being an integral part of his plans for this campaign.
A Luke Shaw return will surely happen before the season ends, but it will likely be next season before he can pick up where he left off.