Luke Shaw, Manchester United’s match-winner against Leicester, is showing signs he is finally ready to fulfill his potential at Old Trafford, writes Peter Smith…
“I’m up and running now,” joked Luke Shaw as he analysed his first career goal in 141 appearances as a professional footballer.
While his decisive goal in Manchester United’s opening-day 2-1 victory over Leicester on Friday night might not be the precursor to a scoring streak, Shaw’s performance suggests he is finally back on track.
1:55 Shaw says that his first goal is the highlight of his career so far
It’s been a tough three years for the left-back since suffering that awful double leg fracture against PSV in the Champions League.
The injury kept him out of action for 11 months and subsequent problems with fitness, form and favourability under boss Jose Mourinho have seen him routinely linked with leaving Old Trafford ever since.
But despite that speculation, Shaw remains a United player and, it seems, more determined than ever to fulfil his potential of becoming a world-class defender.
“I’ve worked really hard over the pre-season,” said Shaw, who admitted to being motivated by his absence from England’s World Cup run to the semi-finals in Russia.
“I had a lot of time off and a lot of time to think and do what I needed to do. I’m working really hard and I want to be up there with the best left-backs in the world.
“I want to be back in the England squad and involved in competitions like the World Cup. Mentally, I think that’s what pushed me on even more, because it was pleasing to see how well they’d done but disappointing for myself to be sat at home watching.
“I want to be in the World Cups and Euros and fighting for a place here in the Champions League and Premier League games.”
At just 23 years old, there is still plenty of time ahead for Shaw to achieve his ambitions. But it felt that the start to this campaign would be a key moment in his career.
He had to win back Mourinho’s trust – and against Leicester, he certainly impressed his boss.
While Leicester concentrated their attacks down the other side of the pitch, United used Shaw’s flank when they were in possession, with 51 per cent of their play in the left third of the field.
Shaw, at the centre of the action, recorded more touches than any player on the pitch and used them effectively, combining an 85 per cent passing accuracy with a willingness to run at the Leicester defence – a tactic which resulted in his goal.
It is testament to the physical work Shaw has done in pre-season that he was so far up the pitch to receive Juan Mata’s pass and then race around Ricardo to hook his finish past Kasper Schmeichel in the 83rd minute. The fact he was third among his team-mates for distance covered and total sprints underlined his good condition.
“I’m very pleased,” said Mourinho, when asked to assess Shaw’s performance. “In 90 minutes, he made one mistake – and it was probably a mistake where the linesman could help him and give a free-kick for us and resolve the problem.
“He was very good defensively, he was good with the ball and physically he coped well.”
That’s some contrast to the public criticism Mourinho dished out to the England international in March after an FA Cup game with Brighton. But it seems Shaw now has a clear idea of what his manager demands – and the motivation and fitness to deliver.
2:38 Jose Mourinho praised Shaw in his post-match interview
“He likes a player with desire, work rate and aggressiveness,” Shaw said of Mourinho. “He does like me to attack and I think last season that’s why he was a bit disappointed with me because he knew I could do that and I wasn’t doing that when I was playing. Of course, defending is also very important for him and I’m learning more of that, I look at a lot of videos.”
After making just his 38th start for United from a possible 153 matches, it feels as though Shaw is finally settling into the role he, his manager and the club want him to play. The challenge will be to add consistency now.
But, as he says, he’s up and running.
Brighton vs Man Utd
August 19, 2018, 3:30pm
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