Luke Shaw has been the best left-back in the Premier League this season and no one saw that coming – apart from Ole Gunnar Solkjaer.
Many thought Shaw’s time in the first-team may well be over following the summer arrival of Alex Telles, yet the Brazilian has hardly had a look in due to Shaw’s resurgent form.
After years of injury struggles and fitness woes, detailed here, United’s £31million investment is finally starting to display the form on a consistent basis that made him so sought after five years ago.
The peak came this past Tuesday, against his former club Southampton, in which a relentless first-half performance saw United go four goals ahead by half-time, with Shaw grabbing two of the assists with two perfectly placed crosses.
While the assists are great for the stats, Shaw has never been a left-back that drives high numbers – with just 15 in his 164 appearances at Old Trafford – instead it was the second goal of the 9-0 annihilation that showed just how important he has become to the side.
He may not have got the final pass that goes into the record books, it was his driving run towards the box and his well timed pass to Mason Greenwood that led to Marcus Rashford firing home.
Shaw has become a tireless runner down the left flank, always there to stretch the pitch and providing United’s attack crucial width as most of their forwards prefer to cut inside rather than drive to the by-line.
It’s telling that with United cruising at the break in the match it was Shaw, alongside 34-year-old Edinson Cavani, who Solskjaer decided to take off and wrap in bubble wrap for Saturday’s trip to Everton. It shows just how vital he has become and the United boss deserves the credit, as well as Shaw himself.
While near everyone else doubted Shaw’s quality a year ago, Solskjaer continued to back his player. He said on January 18, 2020: “Potentially we have the best left-back in England. Luke [Shaw] has the potential to be the best one, and that is the great challenge for him now.”
Many would no doubt have used those comments as yet another stick to batter Solskjaer with, especially as United were down in fifth place at the time, equal on points with Wolves and some 27 points behind top spot.
Yet he has been proven completely right.
While Lucas Digne, Aaron Cresswell, Andrew Robertson and Ben Chilwell have more assists than Shaw this season, none have been as defensively solid as the United man and have still been able to provide as much of an attacking threat. With EURO 2020 hopefully being played this summer, it wouldn’t at all be surprising for Shaw to be named in Gareth Southgate’s first XI, let alone the squad.
This is testament to Solskjaer’s judgement in players, his man-management and his coaching ability because all have been key factors in getting a disheartened and sometimes ridiculed player back to his best.
This transformation, as well as the drastic improvement in Paul Pogba’s form, should earn Solskjaer a tonne of credit in the bank. Even if the wheels end up falling off United’s title challenge and there is yet another trophyless year in the red half of Manchester, it shouldn’t be panic stations.
United are on a clear, sustained upwards trajectory under Solskjaer, the first time that has happened since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, and he has now proven he has serious clout in managing a large group of big egos and getting players at their lowest ebb back on their feet.
A lot of people are wiping a lot of egg off their faces over Luke Shaw.
Solskjaer’s is sparkling clean.