Luke Shaw returned to the Manchester United starting line up last night for the first time since August.
When he sustained his hamstring injury nobody expected him to be out for so long, and a lot has changed.
It was not Ashley Young who has been filling his spot, or Diogo Dalot, but young talent Brandon Williams.
The Times reported this week that United are so impressed with Williams that a search for a new left-back has been called off and he is being viewed as the club’s first choice.
This was evident with the way United left Williams at home for the Astana trip, to prepare him for this weekend’s Premier League game against Aston Villa.
These reports could have been designed to get a reaction out of Shaw, to challenge him. He has plenty to work on.
Limitations in Shaw’s game still evident
Shaw is still working his way back to full fitness, this was very evident against Astana last night.
Attacking is not normally a strong part of Shaw’s game, but this was one area he did do well in last night.
It was Shaw’s pass to find Jesse Lingard in space which led to United’s goal, and he should have had another assist after excellent link up play with Angel Gomes inside the Astana penalty area. He then crossed the ball to Tahith Chong in front of an empty net. The Dutchman produced a horror miss, but this wasn’t Shaw’s fault.
Defensively however Shaw’s game still leaves a lot to be desired.
There was a moment in the first half where he was left flat-footed by a diagonal ball across and a more clinical opponent would have made him pay.
Astana’s winning goal came through an attack down Shaw’s side which he failed to cut out.
He was the only one of United’s defenders not to win a single tackle the entire match.
Shaw may have won last season’s player of the year award but he has a lot to improve on. This award was largely based on performances in the later half of 2018, before his form tailed off badly from March onwards.
Takeaways from Shaw’s performance
Your view of Shaw’s performance against Astana depends how generous you are prepared to be.
One stance is (a) he is returning to match sharpness and should be treated with some leniency accordingly.
Or (b) while United’s young stars stepped up, he looked like the least impressive defensive player, and for a player with his experience, that is not good enough.
The one thing which can be said with certainty is that he did not do enough to put immediate pressure on Brandon Williams’ spot.
United have an important run of three Premier League games over the next week, against Aston Villa (h), Tottenham Hotspur (h) and Manchester City (a).
Shaw’s performance last night showed United cannot play him in those games if he is going to defend like he did.
He did not do enough to put Brandon Williams under pressure for his place.
A strong showing from Shaw would have put the teenager on notice, that he was coming back for his spot.
Last night left Williams as one of the big winners, without even playing.
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