Manchester United: Why Luke Shaw can solve the width problem

On the day after the three-year anniversary since his debut for Manchester United, RealSport explain why he could finally kick on and nail down a spot in Mourinho's side.

It’s easy to forget that Luke Shaw only turned 22 in July. Three years ago yesterday, he made his debut for the Red Devils as he reminded the fans on social media.

A £30m fee for an 18-year-old raised a few eyebrows, but most Manchester United fans were quietly confident that Shaw would make the full-back spot his own for the next decade.

However, it hasn’t worked out that way.

An injury against PSV in 2015 brought a halt to a promising start to his season, but it hasn’t been just that. Loss of form and Jose Mourinho’s desire to put together a solid rather than dynamic backline has been to Shaw’s detriment.

Looking at the replies underneath Shaw’s sentimental tweet, it’s clear to say many Manchester United fans have given up on him for one of two reasons:

1. He’s overweight

2. He doesn’t care.

Now, these accusations don’t come from some tactical analysis or an insight into fitness and conditioning, they come from his 45-minute cameo in the Carabao Cup where he was underwhelming.

Even Phil Neville got in on the Luke Shaw bashing act and laid into the young Englishman for ‘coasting’ and not sprinting to every ball.

Shaw had just come back from a lengthy injury. His side were 3-0 up when he came on. There was no need for him to be sprinting around like a headless chicken. Shaw was right to be wary on his first appearance since April.

He wants to impress Mourinho, but even if Shaw had the best performance of his career in those 45 minutes, it’s unlikely that he would have placed himself any higher in Mourinho’s estimation.

Despite his injuries and the fact he had a poor game against Burton, Luke Shaw is still supremely talented and he’s only 22-years-old.

Setting up the bus

Manchester United have had the best defensive record in the Premier League since the start of the 2016/2017 season. They equal Tottenham for least goals conceded at 31 goals and they top the pile on clean sheets with 22 to Spurs’ 20.

Mourinho has always been known for his ability to create a solid unit in defence and so far it’s looking like he’s doing the same thing at Manchester United.

This has come at a cost though.

Preferring defensive stability, the Special One has often preferred the naturally right-sided Matteo Darmian at left-back because of his defensive abilities. Having Darmian at fullback is great for security at the back but as an attacking outlet, he’s practically non-existent.

While Daley Blind may possess a greater passing ability than Darmian, he too lacks the attacking nous that Antonio Valencia provides on the opposite flank.

 Man UtdChelseaArsenalL’poolMan CitySpurs
Goals Conceded
Conceded per game0.
Clean Sheets221915141620
3+ goals conceded238630
Conceded from set pieces810915910
Error leading to goals3561068

The top 6’s defensive records in the Premier League since the start of 2016/2017.

Valencia’s contribution to the side cannot be understated as he works tirelessly to get up and down the wing, constantly attacking and defending for 90 minutes. The problem here is that for Mourinho’s entire tenure so far, Valencia has been the only real wide attacking player in the team.

Blind and Darmian lack the speed, stamina and crossing ability to support whoever plays as a left winger, and this leads to the attacks on the left becoming one-dimensional.

Mourinho’s public pursuit of Ivan Perisic highlighted the need to solve this width problem. The Manchester United manager wanted someone who could get wide and deliver quality balls into an area that a striker like Romelu Lukaku would get on the end of.

This lack of width was more than likely the reason for Ashley Young’s re-introduction into the team.

The second coming of Ashley Young

In his four appearances for Manchester United this season, Ashley Young has been on the WhoScored team of the week twice, notching up one assist and he would’ve had a second if Lukaku scored with his first attempt against Southampton.

His ball into Lukaku was a beautifully whipped cross that Blind and Darmian could never replicate.

He has been relatively solid in a defensive sense too, but it is his delivery from out wide that has gained him a spot in the team.

Despite his tremendous work-rate and performances in his appearances so far, Ashley Young is 32. He is ten years older than Luke Shaw who should think to himself that he can realistically nail down that spot on the team ahead of Blind, Darmian or Young.

The heir to Patrice Evra?

Luke Shaw is a strong and quick defender who is a decent crosser of the ball and will only get better if his injuries don’t surface again.

Prior to his leg-breaking injury against PSV in 2015, Shaw showed fans a glimpse of what he could do. Marauding up and down the wing, Shaw was arguably Manchester United’s best player prior to his injury.

The 22-year-old can replicate this form again and do a job similar to Valencia on the right side of the pitch. The only person standing in the way of Shaw’s success at Manchester United is himself.

Forget his showing against Burton and forget this absurd idea he is overweight; if Shaw can get a consistent run of games, he has all the tools in his locker to be Manchester United’s number one left back for the foreseeable future.

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