LUKE Shaw’s Manchester United career has been much like the fortunes of the club he joined from Southampton in 2014: stop, start, stop, start. When you think he has no future at the club he starts to perform well. And then, when he’s doing well, something upsets that rhythm.
Shaw is in his sixth season at Old Trafford, but he’s still only 24. He’s started only 116 games in five and a half seasons. David De Gea started almost 300 in the same time. Last season was the first when Shaw started more than half his side’s league games.
He's suffered bad injuries, bad form and bad mouthing in public from managers Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, but he was United’s player of the season last term, the man to jump over the lowest of bars after United’s form plummeted after the win at Paris Saint-Germain a year ago today. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer can’t afford a repeat where his team won only two of their remaining 12 games.
Now that Bruno Fernandes is thriving, Odion Ighalo and Anthony Martial are scoring, Scott McTominay is back and the defence has kept seven clean sheets in their last nine games since that horror show against Burnley, such a fall seems as improbable. But then it did after the high of Paris, too. Solskjaer thinks his side are fitter and have a stronger mentality than a year ago.
Luke Shaw has scored just his second ever goal in professional football.
A bouncing volley to open the scoring in Derby. ⚽️ pic.twitter.com/lFSfbnKpCJ
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) March 5, 2020
Shaw, like United, has had an up and down season. Knee-jerk reactionists who want to see players sold after a poor few months, were all over him leaving when Brandon Williams broke into the side in the autumn. One Nigerian Twitter account with 1,800 followers is called ‘Get Luke Shaw out of this Club’ and while the Mancunian Williams looked more dynamic, fitter and stronger with a more athletic body shape than Shaw, the Londoner wasn’t ready to be written off just yet. The challenge from Williams has been positive.
Like his team, Shaw’s enjoyed a decent six weeks, where he’s played well as a left-back and on the left of three. He excelled there alongside Harry Maguire and Eric Bailly at Chelsea away, he didn’t play badly at Anfield before this decent run and he was one of the few players to thrive in the rain of Bruges, matching the Belgians’ fleet-heeled attackers for pace. Shaw boasts excellent recovery and positioning.
After that game, Gary Neville, who has had doubts about Shaw’s mentality to be a top United player, tweeted: “I think Luke Shaw is approaching something like his best in that left centre-back position. He looks strong and has his running back to where it was. I hope he stays clear of injury now.” Don’t we all, for as Shaw once told me, “I wouldn’t wish the injuries I’ve had on anyone.” He’s had some dark moments, times when he’s seriously considered leaving, but not now.
United’s defence has been settled all season with Aaron Wan Bissaka playing in front of De Gea, Maguire and Victor Lindelof to his left. The ever-changing position was at left-back where Ashley Young, Brandon Williams, Marcos Rojo and Shaw all performed. That position now looks as secure as the others, though Shaw has actually played alongside Williams.
Shaw has been playing with maturity and can speak well when interviewed, though he has an unfortunate tendency to start televised interviews with the words “Yeah, no.” Does he mean yes or no? He did it three times after United’s 3-0 FA Cup win at a raucous Derby which earned them a place in the last eight and another away game, this time against a Norwich City side who United have beaten convincingly home and away in the league this season.
Jesse Lingard is trying to claim Man Utd's opening goal
Luke Shaw: “I haven’t seen it again, but he’s saying it came off his back. I’d be quite embarrassed to claim that if I was him. He can let me have it for once and he can just leave it."pic.twitter.com/u1uKxY9kZR
— Goal (@goal) March 6, 2020
Looking better than he’s ever looked at United, Shaw's resurgence has surprised club insiders. Not without reason, they’d seen his mentality doubted, but he’s looking confident as he powers forward down the left and also comes in central where he can assist. He’s also versatile, which his manager appreciates. And Shaw appreciates the encouragement from Solskjaer, who always thought there was a good player there, and Carrick, rather than the admonishments he had from Mourinho.
Solskjaer stuck up for the annoyed Shaw when Romelu Lukaku leaked results of a confidential sprint test as the Belgian sought to angle his way out of the club. And he scored at Derby, brushing off suggestions that the goal should be given to Jesse Lingard with a defiant: “I’m claiming it.” Can you blame him since he’d only scored once before for United?
Shaw, whose parents travel wherever United are playing to watch their son, was an England international when he signed for United. That status has long been gone and he’s not been able to add to his eight caps, three of them earned when he was at Southampton, but with Ben Chilwell not playing well and Shaw in-form, he should be selected to represent his country in Euro 2020.
The winter break, where he worked on his fitness in Dubai once again before joining United’s Marbella training camp, benefited Shaw and he left the field to an ovation in Derby. Then again, that 5,000 strong United end was so raffish and refreshed that it would have cheered anything. At least they’ve got something to cheer and so has Shaw.