Football Features

“A wonderful redemption story” – Luke Shaw leads the way as Man Utd end Man City’s winning run with excellence at the Etihad

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 21:28, 7 March 2021 | Updated: 19:40, 10 September 2021

In an incredible afternoon of football, Manchester United beat Manchester City 0-2 at the Etihad Stadium.

The win halted City’s 21-match winning run with a spectacular thud and the best player on the park in this dramatic turnaround, this incredible upset, was not the enigmatic talisman Bruno Fernandes, it wasn’t the relentless Marcus Rashford or even the mercurial Anthony Martial. No, the best player on the park in Manchester United’s dominant (yes, dominant) win over Manchester City was Luke Shaw.

Shaw has had unarguably his best season in Manchester United colours even at this stage. Having signed in 2014, Shaw spent the first few years struggling with injuries and poor form. After four seasons in Manchester he had amassed just 66 appearances. He was really struggling.

Then Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took charge, and Shaw’s career began a slow climb back up to the heights he was always meant to scale. At first there was not much improvement, but then at the start of 2020/21 he just seemed to take-off.

Whether that was spawned by the arrival of Alex Telles and genuine competition for his place as United’s starting left-back or perhaps by some more internal realisation that he was now 25 and had to get serious if he was to make himself a star.

And get serious he has, Shaw has 50 chances created this season; that’s 8th this season. Not 8th among United players or 8th among defenders, 8th among everyone in the Premier League. He has created more chances than any other defender, and when it comes to creating big chances only Andrew Robertson (9) has more than him (7).

He’s still not a great defender but his production in the final third is where his impact can really be seen. That creativity has been essential in United’s increased consistency; their ability to constantly churn out wins against weaker sides that has led them to second in the league.

Of course that appeared to have come at the cost of United’s ability to perform against the big teams. In 2019/20 United were lights out in the crunch clashes, but this season they’ve had their lights turned out, losing 1-6 to Spurs and 1-0 to Arsenal. They followed that up by getting real cautious and picking up some dull 0-0’s against weak opponents. That led to people figuring that Man City were going to crush them.

But that’s not what happened at all, and Luke Shaw was a huge part of why. First at the back; Shaw formed an almost impenetrable shield on his flank. Aided by the tireless Marcus Rashford, Shaw led the United press out on the left, disrupting the main channel where Man City build their attacks.

Joao Cancelo has been the best full-back in the league this season and Kevin De Bruyne’s virtues need no extolling, yet neither man was any sort of positive force for City in the game because every time they roamed forward they found Shaw (and Rashford) in their way.

Shaw won possession back a team-high 9 times as well as pitching in with 1 block, tackle and interception each. But it was in attack where Shaw was such a menace that Pep Guardiola had to actually take Joao Cancelo off for the more defensively-minded Kyle Walker to try and stop United from absolutely gutting City down that flank.

United scored their first goal coming in off the flank and winning a penalty, but their second was a masterclass of flank play that revolved around Luke Shaw. Dean Henderson hurled a gorgeous throw 20 yards out to Shaw who kills it with a first-touch off his stomach that takes him through the narrow channel between Cancelo and De Bruyne.

Shaw advances towards the City box, holding possession to drag John Stones towards him. As soon as Stones moves, Shaw’s got him. A slip of the ball through to Marcus Rashford and City are in trouble. The wing-forward and then accelerate towards goal but instead slows down then dips the ball back to Shaw.

In the past Shaw may have looked to draw markers then return the ball to Rashford in space, and from the looks of the move that was probably Rashford’s intent, but Shaw is bristling with such confidence that he took one touch to set the ball and then smacked the ball so cleanly that it glided off his foot through a pack of defenders and into the back of the net before Ederson could even move.

It was a sublime team goal but also a massive individual showcase for just how far Luke Shaw has come this season. From an also-ran to a big game dominating dynamo. England’s best left-back and fully in the conversation to be the best left-back in the Premier League this season (a surprisingly heated competition between England, Scotland (x2) and France) and even the best full-back at all (add in Portugal).

Credit to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer for always sticking by his man, because Luke Shaw is finally becoming the player we all wanted him to be. The best full-back in the league? A case can be made, and unless you’re a Manchester City fan whose pride is still stinging right now, that can only make you happy.

For a teenager to have gotten a massive move and then see it turn into a multi-year injury-riddled nightmare, to have once had a manager say that he had to change his footballing brain, to have been through that traumatic river of excrement and come out the other end not only playing but thriving is a wonderful redemption story.

A Shawshank redemption, if you will.