Brandon Williams’ development as a left-back of appreciable assurance has prompted Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to alter the function of the England international.
Luke Shaw has returned to better shape in recent weeks since switching to a left-sided centre-back role. If he continues to improve he might secure a place in the England squad for the European Championship in addition to his long-term future at Manchester United.
The 24-year-old defender has experienced some tough periods at Old Trafford in his six seasons with the club, not least a broken leg suffered in 2015, but he finally has his destiny in his own hands. Shaw now has to make sure that no chance for advancement is wasted. No manager can do this for him, nor can any new teammates.
Recently, Shaw and United’s fortunes have turned. The development of Brandon Williams has been a constructive threat, to make him realise he is not the only option at left-back. Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Ashley Young were compromise options, and Shaw was the natural first option.
Williams, however, has impressed coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the fans. He’s shown enough promise to be given more minutes. Consequently, Shaw is under threat by a young, hungry replacement.
The development of Williams also paradoxically offered Shaw a way back to the first group. He played very little soccer throughout the first half of this season, because of injury, but has become a more visible presence in recent months.
Solskjaer has settled on a strategic change that utilizes the strengths of his players and mitigates their flaws.
By using Williams as a left wing-back, Solskjaer can get the most out of his favorable drama, but adds cover behind him by employing Shaw as a centre-back on the remaining three. In turn, Shaw can give protection for the relatively immobile duo of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof, and in addition, it allows Maguire to step out of defence to bolster the midfield.
For United, who often struggle to defend and find it tough to break down massed defences, it provides an excess body in both midfield and defence.
Before moving to United for a record #31 million ($40m / $37m) fee, Shaw was always keen on his Southampton coach Mauricio Pochettino. That’s one of the reasons he originally favoured a move to Tottenham after Pochettino departed St Mary’s. The Argentine used to create him smoothies in the morning.
A nice enough gesture, and one valued by Shaw, but it’s difficult now to take it as anything other than a signal from his former boss he desired him to take care of his diet.
There also have been admonishments from Roy Hodgson, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho about his fitness levels, and he still looks bulkier than many professional footballers. That would matter less if performances were always up to scratch.
Mourinho once praised Shaw’s performance levels, however, at the same time indicated it was just because the participant was micromanaged in the technical area during the game.
Shaw’s pace has saved him from bad placement, but for the most part his defensive field and awareness have not improved since he emerged as a raw, teenaged feeling.
There have, however, been problems from his control. Van Gaal was not suited to handling United, and some players haven’t yet flushed his rigidity from their own systems. Mourinho’s increasingly abrasive fashion, meanwhile, has a propensity to upset players in his steady, Shaw included.
But he’s shown at Southampton and sometimes at United he has the ability, something that led to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and Mourinho offering a rich new contract in the rear end of 2018.
Shaw is a frustrating figure, and patience over his lack of progress could well have run out by now in a better-run club. As it is, the clearest and rebuilding beforehand is so extensive he was given another opportunity.