Football Features

How Luke Shaw overcame a £30m-rated challenge to remain Man Utd’s No.1 left-back

By Harry Edwards

Published: 12:31, 30 January 2021

When Manchester United confirmed the signing of Alex Telles in the summer transfer window many expected it to begin the end of Luke Shaw’s time at Old Trafford.

The English left-back joined Man Utd in 2014 but had never really lived up to the lofty expectations accompanying his £30m move from Southampton. This, combined with the performances and attacking record of Telles at Porto, did not make for good reading for Shaw, especially following a disastrous display in the 6-1 defeat to Tottenham Hotspur at Old Trafford.

But in a surprising turn since that defeat, Shaw hasn’t really been out of the Man Utd starting XI (injuries aside) and in recent weeks he has proven to be one of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s key men.

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Since a hamstring injury ruled him out of five matches going into December, Shaw has missed just two of Man Utd’s 13 games across all competitions, starting nine times. His two substitute appearances marked differing fortunes. First, he replaced Telles at half-time in a 1-0 win over Wolves, and then he came on late in the surprise home defeat to Sheffield United, again replacing Telles.

That United only beat Wolves once he came on, and that they were already losing to Sheffield United before he was summoned off the bench, seems to underline how important he has become to the Red Devils.

That run has seen Man Utd win six times with just two defeats, one in the Carabao Cup semi-finals against Man City and of course the shock loss to Sheffield United. Shaw’s personal moment of redemption came in a goalless draw with Liverpool at Anfield in which he almost single-handedly kept Mohamed Salah quiet and was named Man of the Match as a result.

That performance at Anfield has been accompanied by a number of other solid defensive displays as part of a settled back line that has been vital to Man Utd’s title challenge particularly since the start of 2021. In the five Premier League games since the start of the new year, Man Utd have kept two clean sheets while also conceding just four goals

Luke Shaw

  • Age: 25
  • Premier League stats (2020/21 season)
    • Games played: 16 (1,260 minutes)
    • Tackles: 1.86 per 90
    • Take-ons completed: 1.14 per 90
    • Clearances: 2.0 per 90
    • Chances created: 1.93 per 90
  • Football Index value: £0.52 (Sell) £0.80 (Buy)

Shaw’s role in that defence has seen the Englishman average 1.86 tackles, win 1.14 take-ons and make 2.0 clearances per 90 minutes in the Premier League. It was a similar case in the 3-2 win over Liverpool in the FA Cup at the weekend where, despite conceding two goals, Shaw put in an impressive defensive performance. He made two clearances, an interception and a match-high five tackles to help Man Utd secure a win over their bitter rivals.

However, it’s not just in defence that Shaw has been thriving. The Englishman has also been one of Man Utd’s better attacking players, turning into the all-round left-back Man Utd have been missing since Patrice Evra’s departure.

Since the start of 2021, Shaw has created 11 chances in the Premier League, at an average of 2.69 per 90. Across the rest of the Premier League, only six players have created more chances than Shaw over that same period and when you look at who they are (Bruno Fernandes, Kevin de Bruyne, Sadio Mané, Phil Foden, Jack Grealish and Mason Mount) Shaw’s contribution becomes all the more noteworthy.

And again in the FA Cup win over Liverpool, Shaw was the man, creating more chances than any other Man Utd player (three), while also completing two take-ons. It was another performance that showed just why Solskjaer has been picking Shaw over Telles in recent weeks.

A healthy rivalry

Perhaps the Brazilian’s arrival has spurred his team-mate on, but there is no animosity between Telles and Shaw, with the Brazilian seemingly happy to see his team-mate thriving, using it as motivation for his own growth in the Man Utd team.

“I’m very prepared to play,” Telles told Man Utd’s official website recently.

“I’m also very happy with the performances of Luke and his hard work.

“I came here to play. And both me and Luke really develop together, both in training and games. I’ve played and have put in some good performances as well.

“United benefit from this as well, United the club, because we win by having good players available. And if needed I’m here, ready, focused and prepared to play.

“And once again I repeat that I’m really happy for Luke Shaw, his great performances and contributions.”

How long the harmony lasts remains to be seen and Solskjaer may end up having a tough job on his hands to keep Telles and Shaw happy, both of whom are nearing or at their primes. But, for now, Shaw is making the most of the increased competition and it has Man Utd on the path of trophies.