No player over the last six years has divided opinion amongst United fans like Luke Shaw. Phil Jones, Pereira and others may have had their defenders but all were generally poor when they dawned the United jersey. Chris Smalling has found a happy home in Roma after years of taking the brunt of criticism that should have been shared with his other defenders. Luke Shaw has faced criticism online for his weight, his fitness and his aversion to bombing forward at times in his tenure at United. At times brilliant, at times disappointing and always on the brink of injury, it seems that Schrodinger’s Shaw experiment has us all at once a fan and not a fan of the left-back.
Shaw signed from Southampton in 2014 and looked like a serious signing. It has been a tough six years for the 25-year-old. Impressing in 2015/16, he suffered a leg break that halted his progression as a proper United player. Muscle injuries and cautiousness have followed Shaw around like a spectre. It is hard to know whether it is a fear of injury that stops him rushing into every tackle and chance with 100% aggression and desire. An infamous clip circled on Twitter showing Bruno Fernandes motioning Luke Shaw, who was motionless infield from the Portuguese playmaker, to run behind him and up the left flank. An almost imperceptible shake of the head came from the Englishman, showing his lack of desire and unwillingness to run.
Now, I hold my hands up here and say that this was Solsjkaer’s tactic. Shaw has managed to win his starting spot back from Brandon Williams after returning from injury at the beginning of the season. United have been defensively sound following the Spurs thrashing. The last two games especially (The Everton win and Istanbul loss) saw Shaw bombing down the left, getting forward and looking for the final pass. He assisted Fernandes’ equalising header on Saturday afternoon and looked solid at the back. Unfortunately, Shaw cut a forlorn figure limping off early in United’s 3-1 win over Everton. A hamstring injury has ruled him out for up to a month. He will miss crucial games against West Brom, Southampton and West Ham, as well as the three remaining Champions League fixtures. Just as he got going he was stopped in his tracks by another injury.
This begs the question: Are we asking too much of Shaw? Alex Telles has been waiting in the wings (quarantine) and may pip Shaw to the top of the pecking order. Brandon Williams, too, will see this period as a possible chance to get back in the first team. Every time Shaw seems to listen to his teammates, the fans and charges forward while maintaining his defensive duties, his legs give up on him. He has shown resolve to get back in Solsjkaer’s plans after a turbulent four years but maybe the injuries are going to catch up with him in a time that Ole is trying to impose his own stamp on the team.