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Luke Shaw is ready to repay Jose Mourinho’s faith

For many Manchester United fans, the image of Luke Shaw laying motionless on the pitch in Eindhoven is a painful one. The 2-1 defeat in the 2015 UEFA Champions League opener, while disappointing, in comparison to the damage done by Hector Moreno’s horror tackle meant very little. Shaw’s work rate and fearless marauding up the left flank were crucial to the early season success of Louis van Gaal’s side in his final year as manager. His presence in the team, at full fitness, gave a tantalising glimpse at his potential. Shaw at his best appeared to be the best attacking left back to pull on the shirt since Patrice Evra. The excitement surrounding his performances led to great anticipation for his return from his first injury. Luke Shaw returned to the pitch during the FA Community Shield against Leicester City at the start of last season. He was clearly rusty but the anticipation was high.

Shaw’s season under Jose Mourinho was far from the return he likely dreamed of, struggling to get on the pitch due to issues with the manager. Mourinho publicly questioned his fitness at several different stages through the season. This now appears to have been part of Mourinho’s signature “tough love” that Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Anthony Martial have both received. Shaw went on to make just 11 appearances in league play in the 2016/17 season. A crushing blow to Shaw’s journey back to full fitness was a ligament injury he suffered at the end of last season. This demoralising injury will keep him out until winter of the 2017/18 season. Speaking about this coming season being the one where Shaw needs to prove himself, the player said:

“This is my season to prove myself and I’m feeling in good shape. I want to show everyone that I believe in myself and show the manager that as well. I’m in a positive frame of mind and don’t want talk too much about the past. But I do think that I’ve been unlucky with injuries. My leg and now this. It was unlucky. I want to put them in the past.”

This most recent injury has elicited a different reaction from Shaw and Mourinho. A massive exhibition of faith in the player has been the lack of interest in a left back from United this transfer window. Shaw has a clear path back into the first team and with the manager supporting him his emergence could coincide with significant success in Mourinho’s second season in charge. The attack at times was severely unbalanced, with the conservative Matteo Darmian playing at left back while the ever-present Antonio Valencia bombed forward. This lack of balance often made it difficult for Martial, Marcus Rashford and whoever else occupied the left-sided winger spot. The presence of Shaw constantly overlapping caused overloads for opposing defenders. 

This defensive chaos was what provided the flashes of brilliance fans saw from Memphis Depay in the first few games of his short United career. This lack of fullback assistance led to a shortage of space and very little crossing service from the left side. The return of a true attacking left back and the balance it will provide will force teams to shift away from Valencia, United’s primary crosser of the football. Romelu Lukaku is also accustomed to receiving service from fullbacks, having the luxury of playing with Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman during his time at Everton. This familiarity with attacking fullbacks makes Shaw’s presence an even more crucial factor in Lukaku’s first season being a success. Shaw, talking about his rehab from injury, said:

“I’m working hard and I’ve been doing rehab each day. It has been coming along really good. I’ve been running on a treadmill and doing my leg weights and making sure my foot is strong. I’ve also been doing a lot of cardiovascular work to keep me in good shape. I’m feeling good. I’ve had lots of chats with the manager and he’s keeping close tabs on how I’m getting on. The sooner I’m back the better and hopefully it is soon because I want to get out there playing.”

Shaw has the opportunity to return to a much improved United side and assert himself as the best left back in England. The support he has received from the manager should prove crucial to a player with confidence issues in the past. Shaw must take advantage of what could be his last chance to succeed with United and hit the ground running. If he is going to be a Manchester United player by the end of next summer’s transfer window, this must be the year Shaw takes the step up from a potential star to a first team stalwart.

Written by Bobby Frazier

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