Could Luke Shaw's fitness issues force Solskjaer to act?
Luke Shaw’s fitness issues and inconsistent form have been a recurring theme during his time at Manchester United but will Ole Gunnar Solskjaer lose patience with his number one left back?
The 24-year-old picked up a hamstring injury in the 2-1 defeat to Crystal Palace, which has resulted in Ashley Young finding his way back into the starting 11. Shaw is expected to be out for another couple of weeks.
Shaw became the most expensive teenager in the world when signing from Southampton for £27m in 2014 and there was an expectancy that he would become both United and England’s number one left back for the next decade.
Gareth Southgate has seemingly lost patience with Shaw’s inability to stay fit and opted to stick with Danny Rose and Ben Chilwell even when Shaw is available for selection. Shaw faces an uphill task in forcing his way back into the England squad ahead of the European Championships.
After making his debut for the senior team in 2014 and being touted to take over the reigns from Ashley Cole, Shaw has only made a further seven international caps.
Despite signing a new five-year deal last year and being named United’s player of the year, Shaw’s disciplinary record wasn’t pleasant reading.
Although Shaw’s 55 tackles topped United’s charts last season, he received 11 yellow cards in 29 games, many of which were given due to rash professional fouls. He also received a further three cautions in eight Champions League games.
Shaw doesn’t possess the same love for tackling as the Red Devils’ right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka; he often gets caught out of position and ends up recklessly diving in.
This was highlighted in last season’s FA Cup defeat to Wolves where Diogo Jota tied Shaw up in knots, which resulted in the left back falling to the ground in a heap and Jota smashing the ball into the bottom corner.
Throughout his career, Shaw has had to deal with criticism from previous managers Roy Hodgson, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho relating to fitness levels, form and being overweight.
In his first guest appearance of the season on Sky Sports, the Portuguese coach couldn’t resist taking another dig at Shaw.
After United’s 4-0 win against Chelsea, the new Sky Sports pundit said: “When Maguire gets drawn out to cover for Luke Shaw, he will learn through the season he will have to do this many times, he will learn this.”
Shaw’s ability to drive forward and overlap his left winger is a key part of Solskjaer’s attacking plans but there are occasions where does caught too high up the pitch.
How do his rivals compare?
In his 135 Premier League appearances, Shaw has scored one goal and made nine assists. In contrast, Liverpool’s Andrew Robertson has scored two goals and made 20 assists in 119 matches. The injury-plagued Benjamin Mendy has made six assists in just 17 games. Oleksandr Zinchenko has three assists in 26 fixtures.
There is no denying that Liverpool and Manchester City are playing a free flowing attacking brand of football that Manchester United fans crave seeing week in week out, but United’s fiercest rivals’ left backs are a constant attacking outlet. This is an area Shaw could improve on but he is playing in a United side, which is currently looking bereft of creative talent.
When Shaw burst onto the scene at Southampton, he was renowned for his galloping marauding runs forward and United saw him as the perfect replacement for Patrice Evra.
The Frenchman had a knack for scoring crucial goals and making match-winning assists. In 278 Premier League appearances, United’s former captain scored seven goals and provided 33 assists.
Shaw hasn’t been able to match or better the 35 appearances he made for Southampton during the 2013/14 season, that was also the last campaign he got through without sustaining an injury.
The 40 appearances in all competitions Shaw amassed last season was double his previous best of 20, which came in his first season at Old Trafford back in 2014/15.
Before the horror injury in Eindhoven four years ago, Shaw had been United’s best player since the season started. However, since then he has suffered several injury setbacks.
The emergence and potential of Brandon Williams could be the challenge Shaw needs. When fit himself, Diogo Dalot could even be an option on the left too.
Shaw is no longer the promising 18-year-old talent coming through the Southampton ranks, he is now an experienced 24-year-old professional who should be entering his peak years and fulfilling the world class talent that made United secure his signature.
Solskjaer can’t do any transfer dealings until January but if Shaw’s injury fortunes do not improve, the Norwegian may be forced to explore other options.
Even when Shaw is fit, if his form takes a step back or simply stagnates, Solskjaer may have to experiment with alternatives all the same.
Should it get to January with the situation still a concern, and Williams and Dalot cannot win Solskjaer’s trust, then United may need to look at a new signing to provide cover and competition.
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