You don’t need to be an avid follower of Manchester United to appreciate that there have been many false dawns around Luke Shaw’s career. Cited as a precocious talent at Southampton, he made the PFA Team of the Year in 2014 before moving to Manchester. His United career started well enough, but it was soon derailed by a horrific double leg break early on in the 2015/16 season. It was a long road back, and Shaw struggled with more injuries and form; the latter was not helped by his relationship with former United manager Jose Mourinho, something that Shaw has been vocal about.
Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, things got better, albeit slowly. Shaw did okay as the left-sided of three centre backs, although that was a short-lived experiment. He was named United’s player of the season at the end of the 2019/19 campaign. But as the 2020/21 season has progressed, Shaw has not only continued his improvement but become the star man at United – even outshining Bruno Fernandes lately.
Shaw has starred for United lately
Now in his ninth Premier League season – his seventh at Old Trafford – it seems like he is older than his 25 years. But Shaw has been transformed – physically and mentally– and looks set to fulfil his potential as an elite left-back. He has clearly gained muscle, but his stocky physique belies lightning-quick speed and acceleration. His attacks down the left flank are becoming United’s most potent weapon, as is his delivery of crosses and corners.
At this point, it is clear that Shaw now only deserves to be in Gareth Southgate’s squad for the Euros this summer, but part of the England manager’s game plan to win the tournament. Shaw, and this is not a throwaway comment, could become a powerful weapon for England in the same manner as Jodi Alba is for Spain.
The build-up for Euro 2020 – UEFA insists on calling it that despite it being in the summer of 2021 – has been rather muted. Perhaps it’s due to the postponement of the tournament, or the relentless club schedule, but that will likely change when the World Cup qualifiers start next week. Southgate has relatively easy games against San Marino and Albania, plus a tough match against Poland. He has the duel task of getting England off to a good start in the qualifiers for Qatar 2022 and creating a blueprint for the Euros.
Chilwell has claims on left-back spot
Southgate has plenty of selection dilemmas, not least picking the best attack from Harry Kane, Raheem Sterling, Jack Grealish, Jadon Sancho, Phil Foden, Marcus Rashford, Mason Mount and a handful of others. But the left-back position, or even left wing-back, looks like a straight shootout between Shaw and Ben Chilwell.
Chilwell is a fine player, and he will feel aggrieved to be left out ahead of Shaw. But the United man is playing much better football right now, something that is borne out in the stats between the pair. Shaw leads Chilwell in terms of assists, crossing accuracy and chances created this season.
But there is a less quantifiable reason for choosing Shaw. He is growing in stature, both literally (he really has put on the muscle) and figuratively. If you have watched United in recent months, you will have seen an aura about Shaw, a player who seems to know his time has come. Southgate should recognise this because, if he stays fit and is used properly, Shaw might be key to England finally winning a major trophy his summer.