The 2020/21 season was a career defining campaign for Luke Shaw, for both club and country. After years of inconsistent form, being left out of international squads and struggling to fulfil the potential he possesses, Shaw found his feet. However, since the start of the 2021/22 campaign, the left back has looked a shadow of the player fans had gotten used to watching last season, where has it all gone wrong?
Last season, Shaw played 47 games for Manchester United in all competitions, this was the most appearances Shaw had managed to make in one campaign for United, which shows how inconsistent he was in the seasons previous and how injuries and lack of belief had impacted his time at the club, before that season.
In those 47 appearances, Shaw scored one goal and got six assists from left-back, again, this was his best attacking return ever in a Manchester United shirt, the second best being the 2018/19 season where he managed one goal and five assists, interestingly, the majority of Shaws attacking returns in the 2018/19 season came after the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as manager, and the sacking of Jose Mourinho.
His performances in the 2020/21 season also made him an England regular once more, something he had not achieved for many years, he was recalled to the squad for their international games in March of 2021 and has been a nailed-on pick ever since.
The Guardian reported ‘Luke Shaws England recall rewards a player in the form of his life’, the report also notes that prior to this recall, the left back had only played twice for Southgate’s England, something that was about to change.
Shaw was included in the Euro 2020 England squad, and it is not hyperbolic to say that in this tournament we saw the very best of the left back. Shaw played every game, except for the opener against Croatia, and put in consistently brilliant performances, ending the tournament with one goal and three assists within six games.
The Independent reported that in England’s 4-0 quarter final victory against Ukraine ‘Shaw showed English football he is the elite left-back some predicted but many more doubted’, after he left the pitch after 65 minutes with two assists to his name.
Shaws tremendous tournament culminated with him scoring the opening goal in the tournament’s final against Italy, smashing home a left footed shot with only two minutes on the clock, for a brief moment in history, Luke Shaw was the nations hero. Of course, as we all know, it was not to be and England lost on penalties, but the disappointment of the final did not wipe out the fact that as a country we had witnessed Shaw at his very best, all he needed to do now was keep up that form.
However, it feels to many United fans that Shaw left his form on the plane on the way back from the Euros. So far the left back has made 14 appearances in al competitions for United, with two assists to his name. However, it is not the defenders attacking numbers that are cause for concern, Shaw is part of a defence that has kept no clean sheets at home in the league this season, with the left back being at fault positionally for many goals conceded this season.
Notably, in the 2-0 loss to Manchester City, Luke Shaw appeared to ball watch, not realising Bernardo Silva was creeping in behind him, tapping the ball home for 2-0, had Shaw been more positionally aware, the goal would not have been conceded and United would have gone in at half time 1-0 down and still in the game.
For United fans, the form of Shaw is impossible to understand, nothing has changed around the player, he is still managed, at time of writing, by a manager who seemingly believed in him and gave him the minutes to realise his best form as a player, so what is the issue?
Put simply, it would seem as though Shaw is still suffering from the highs of the summer, he was quite literally at the top of his game and was on the brink of being part of history for his national team, missing out so agonisingly was always going to take its toll on the players. Other England players who played key roles in the tournament have also returned notably low on confidence and form, such as Harry Kane, John Stones and United captain Harry Maguire.
For Shaw, he needs to find his form and find it fast, of course not all United’s defensive issues can be blamed on him, but unlike Aaron Wan-Bissaka at right back, Shaw has a hungry Alex Telles ready to take his spot whenever the time comes.
Shaw now has the international break to hopefully clear his head of the lapse in judgement in the derby, get some minutes under his belt for England, and return in the right headspace ready to prove once again that he is an elite level left back, and he can be part of a competent defence that United so desperately need.
Written by Jennifer McCord