Expectations were sky bound when Luke Shaw, the much coveted teenage England left-back signed for Manchester United from Southampton for a staggering transfer fee of £27 million, making him the most expensive teenager in the country. After two solid seasons as the Saints left-back, signing Shaw as Patrice Evra’s long term successor seemed like a no brainer option for United and they gleefully went ahead with the transfer when they heard about Shaw’s willingness for a move to the Theatre of Dreams. But luck did not favour Shaw as injuries disrupted his season and he could only muster 16 appearances as United experimented with Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Ashley Young and Tyler Blackett at the left-back or left-wing-back position.
Shaw did look promising whenever he played. His lung bursting runs and breath-taking pace has convinced many of the former United legends like Denis Irwin, that he will come good for United sooner than later. He showed glimpses of his talent in many games and especially in the away game against Chelsea he created quite a few chances with his ability to beat the full back with his pace. With Louis van Gaal winning the battle to not let Shaw feature in the U21 European Championship, Shaw could have a good pre season under his belt readying him for next season where he will have his first taste of Champions League football.
Marcus Rojo waged a war at Sporting Lisbon to let him leave for Manchester. When third-party ownership of the player made the deal unfavorable for Sporting, United stepped up their interest offering Nani on loan to his former team. The chance to re unite with their once prodigal son was a bait too good for the Portuguese side to resist and United landed the Argentine International for a modest fee of £16 million. Issues with the work permit saw him forced to wait on the sidelines while United struggled with two draws and two losses in the first four matches that included a humiliating 4-0 thrashing by MK Dons in the Capital One Cup.
His much awaited debut came in the 4-0 win against Queens Park Rangers where he had an impressive start at left back, where he is a main stay for his national side. But United’s issues at the back meant Rojo had to be slotted in as the left-sided centre back where he excelled until a series of injuries forced him to endure a frustrating spell in the sidelines. Rojo looked more comfortable playing centre back than in the full back role in a decent first season for the club, where he won 22 caps and seems to have settled down well.
Out of the trio, Daley Blind’s transfer was as smooth as a manager would want it to be. There was no war of words between the two clubs or between the player and the former club, as Ajax were resolved to losing their player of the season and they let him leave with honour. Blind had no second thoughts in saying yes to one of the biggest clubs in the world where Van Gaal his former International manager occupies the hot seat. Although Van Gaal played him as a left-wing-back in the world championship, the Dutch international had his sights set on the defensive midfielder position where he shone for Ajax. His wish was granted as injury to Michael Carrick and series of poor shows from Darren Fletcher, left Van Gaal to turn to one of his most consistent players in the World Cup.
Blind was excellent in his debut for the club as he nipped every Queens Park Rangers attack in the bud as United triumphed past Harry Redknapp’s side. Blind was solid at the centre of the park even though he was criticised in some fronts for his passing being too safe and predictable at times. He got injured mid way through the season but the timing of his injury did not hamper United as it coincided with Carrick coming back. Blind featured in a left-back role in the latter stages of the season until Carrick got injured forcing him to be reverted back to the centre of midfield. While at it, Blind was decent playing as a left back and complimenting a rejuvenated Ashley Young, who played in the left-wing and was the best United player in the tail end of the season.
Luke Shaw’s biggest strength is his pace. He is one of the quickest full backs in the country and his change of pace had accounted for quite a few Southampton goals in the past few seasons. Although he has no assists or goals to his name for United he created quite a few chances when he featured in the side. Shaw has good physical strength and with age on his side he could easily transform into one of the best United full backs ever. The key to all that is definitely him being fit.
Rojo is a battling footballer no matter which position he occupies. His agility and athleticism is next to none and has a good engine on him enabling him to run up and down all day long. He is a brave defender and has a good jump making him an aerial threat in the opposition box and a vital cog in the wheel in United’s defence. Rojo is a team player and is very lively on the pitch. The way he motivated Paddy McNair, when the youngster was partnered with him in the centre of the defence, was very pleasing to see. Although he started and finished the season playing as a full back, Rojo’s best games have come playing as a centre back where he has looked at home.
Blind’s main strength is his footballing brain and reading of the game. He doesn’t attempt many Hollywood passes and likes to play it safe and simple. Blind seldom gives the ball away and had a pass completion rate of 88% which is nothing short of brilliant. He is exceptional at nicking the ball off opponent’s feet without committing himself to any expansive tackling. He brings calm and composure to the side and never looks nervous.
Prior to signing for United, Shaw was quizzed about his toughest opponent he had played and to the surprise of many, his answer was Victor Moses. No disregard to the player, Shaw’s decision making on the pitch is sometimes equally bizarre. He went to sleep and overcompensated by sliding in and conceding a penalty against Everton early in the season and required David De Gea heroics to save his blushes. Shaw is too eager sometimes and over-works himself only to be injured way too easily. Fitness is another grave concern and given his tender age, it is definitely something he can work on.
Rojo is clever on and off the ball when he plays centre back but he has looked rather wayward at times playing as a full back. The timing of his overlapping is questionable at times. The game against Leicester was an illustration of his lack of presence of mind. Rojo decided to overlap when Mata was being pressed and needed support, and with both of them caught out of position in the opposition half, Leicester scored from their counter attack. These kind of errors cost you matches and Rojo has to keep it out of his system if he were to challenge Shaw to a starting berth as the left back.
Blind’s lack of pace is his biggest and most evident enemy. The defensive shift Ashley Young has put in has helped him immensely but pairing him with a more attack minded winger could expose Blind’s shortcomings. Partnered with Memphis Depay, Blind had a game to forget against the United States on Friday, as he was chasing shadows all game and with Memphis rarely back tracking, Blind was beaten for pace in many occasions during the game.
Rojo should be fighting for the centre back spot and looking to get ahead of Jones in the pecking order. If United fail to land a left-sided centre back in the transfer window, Rojo has a decent chance to stake claims to that spot since he is a natural left footer. It’s tough to see Blind being preferred in the defensive mid role as United are already in the market for a number six. Most probably Blind would be used as a utility player slotting in at various positions like left-back, left centre back, defensive mid or left centre midfield as required by the team.
If he stays fit, Shaw is the best bet to be Manchester United’s left-back for many years. But fitness issues could hamper his progress and force United to look elsewhere. It’s vital for both the player and the club that he is efficiently used since united will be playing more games next season. Shaw has to justify his expensive price tag and United fans would be dearly hoping that the youngster would come of age next season.
This article was researched and written by Ashish Krishna. You can follow him on Twitter.