Jose Mourinho once (in)famously declared that Luke Shaw needed “His body with my brain” to get through a match. After a season touching upon perfection, it’s pretty clear that this line of thought is – and maybe always was – wildly misplaced.
Manchester United Players’ Player of the Year, PFA Team of the Year, England’s first-choice left-back…the adulation has come in many forms and all of it is thoroughly deserved.
None of this will have come as a huge surprise to the many fans and pundits who’ve always believed in Shaw’s obvious potential. He’s played like this before, just not with quite the same consistency.
Is it down to his new-found maturity? Competition in the form of Alex Telles? Changes in diet, lifestyle, or coaching? Perhaps it’s the calming presence of Harry Maguire on his side of the defence, or playing under a manager who values an arm around the shoulder over the public broadside?
The chances are it’s a combination of all of those things but, whatever the reason, he’s now established himself as one of the best left-backs in England and beyond. After the injury troubles, criticisms and doubts, it’s been incredibly gratifying to witness his emergence as a master of his craft.
Honestly, there’s very little room for improvement. If you were determined to find fault, you might suggest that he could shoot more often, as he’s actually got a very high accuracy percentage, with six of eleven shots hitting the target. One goal isn’t a huge return but it came in the derby, so is the equivalent of five goals in less dramatic circumstances – making him a genuine hotshot.
Attacking: United’s left side is one of the most potent in the league and Shaw’s rampaging attacking play was a huge factor in that. His overlaps were a constant headache for opposition defences and the numbers highlight just how valuable were his attacking contributions. He created an eye-catching 72 chances over the course of the season, second only to Trent Alexander-Arnold, who doesn’t provide anything like the same defensive balance.
He also chipped in with five vital assists, making him one of the most productive left-backs in the country.
Balance: It would be reasonable to expect that Shaw’s rediscovered attacking menace would come at the expense of defensive solidity. However, his improved fitness allows him to get back quickly enough to plug gaps left by his own attacking runs. Whether bombing forward to add width or shackling opposition attackers, Shaw struck the perfect balance.
Consistency: Although he started slowly, he found peak form around December and kept it going until May. Even ‘Mr Consistency’ himself, Denis Irwin, would be impressed by Shaw’s effervescence and reliability.
From attacking to defending, Luke Shaw has hardly put a foot wrong all season. Solid positionally, decisive in the tackle, decent in the air, a quick and frequent attacking threat…he’s shown it all.
His return to England prominence is a richly deserved reward for the hard work and determination that has seen him become an almost perfect example of the modern-day full-back.
If he can steer clear of injuries and maintain his performance levels, it won’t be long before he’s being spoken about in the same reverent tones as former United greats Denis Irwin and Patrice Evra. He’s genuinely been that good.