If Luke Shaw is playing well, that usually means Manchester United are playing well

Think back to the last time a Manchester United The side entered the new year and looked able to continue their spell in the upper reaches of the Premier League Table. You may remember that left-back was playing well at that time, too.

On the way to second place in the 2020-21 season under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Luke Shaw He was enjoying a renaissance, finishing in the Team of the Season and as United’s Player of the Year. There was a compelling argument that he was the second most important player in United’s style of play behind the influential – perhaps very influential – Bruno Fernandez.

This season’s team lined up the same way and Shaw may not rank as high right away, but that’s the result of a new manager and new approach. Compared to Solskjaer, Erik ten Hag’s style is more focused on the system than the individuals. There is no clear hierarchy of influence. And so when a player stands out, it’s arguably even more impressive.

Shaw has done just that since returning from world Cupparticularly on “great” performances where the center half is on the left side vs Nottingham Forest (3-0 win on Dec. 27) and Wolverhampton Wanderers (a 1-0 win on New Year’s Eve) in which Ten Hag was delivering a rare and pleasant tribute.

However, the good news for some of United’s other more established players is that the in-form Shaw is too good to play left-back, as he showed against Bournemouth.

Shaw has been part of a back four that hasn’t been seen regularly since his Solskjaer days. There was a time, during the 2019-20 campaign, when he and Aaron Wan-Bissaka the accompaniment Harry Maguire And the Victor Lindelof He was the first choice defense, a defense that had successfully gone through an entire Premier League season conceding less than a goal in a match.

Three of that quartet are now clearly a second choice. Shaw is the only one he can count on from the start as he can combine defensive stability with game-changing moments in the final third. Or in the case of the pass that opened United’s third game against Bournemouth, from inside the opposition half.

Shaw’s passing is sometimes underappreciated in his game, though if he could play more balls like the one that goes over the Bournemouth defense so Fernandes can get around him. Marcus RashfordIt will start to attract more attention.


Touch map Luke Shaw vs Bournemouth

There was another from about the same place a week ago against Forest – lower, flatter and sent down the left wing rather than the right, but treacherous to defend and almost slipping in. Alejandro Garnacho. However, this was even better, perfectly timed to match Fernandes’ slashing run and momentarily revealing indecision in Bournemouth’s backline.

Luke Shaw vs Bournemouth

sum

The team’s rank

touches

116

the first

Passes done

91

the first

I tried passes

103

the first

pass completed

88.3%

Fourth (between appetizers)

The total incremental distance of the passes

498 yards

the first

Of course by that point he had already scored: starting a move into United’s second place with a neat combination with Rashford, then making a quick run into midfield and then finishing it off by carrying his run into the box and poking in Garnacho’s cross. It was once the case that Shaw’s goal was something of a rarity. Still, to be honest. It was only the fourth time in the club’s career that he had come close to making his 300th appearance. But including international goals, three of the seven in total have come over the last 12 months. It is far from prolific but it is an improvement.

One of Shaw’s most popular qualities with journalists is that he is a refreshingly honest and open-minded speaker. His candid assessment of Ten Hag’s penalty for Rashford lying at the weekend provided an example. “At a big club like this, it has to be like that,” he insisted after the win over Wolves. “I think people can’t do what they want and that was probably part of the problem in the past, with people getting away with silly little things.”

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Luke Shaw has proven invaluable in how Manchester United defend and attack

Those comments linked a pattern with Shaw’s best spell in a United shirt. Following his career at Old Trafford he is a player who seems to be benefiting from the winds of change.

He was initially one of the biggest beneficiaries of Jose Mourinho’s departure and Solskjaer’s appointment. Arguably, this widely celebrated resurgence in 2021 began the previous season and coincided with Fernandez’s transformative arrival. Shaw returned to the starting line-up at the same time and remained in it for most of an unbeaten run until the end of the season, as a re-formed and re-formed United secured an unexpected top-four finish.

And now, anyone who has seen Ten Hag’s vibrant, confident style can tell that change is in the works again. After the victory over Bournemouth, Shaw praised the improved mood and atmosphere around the club. “I think the manager added the right players. They’re really a big part of the dressing room and since I’ve been here that’s the best the dressing room has felt like.”

He summed up the night differently in his post-match Instagram caption: “Begin as we mean to continue.” For a left-back who just needs consistency to be among the best in Europe, it’s a fitting message for the new year. But Xu has been playing well for a good while now. And if he plays well, United usually is.

(Top photo: Naomi Baker/Getty Images)

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