Manchester United supporters are desperate for Luke Shaw to become the player they think he is capable of being. When he signed from Southampton as a teenager, there was a belief that he could be the club’s first choice left-back for a decade.
Things haven’t entirely gone to plan, though, with Shaw suffering from a disappointing first season and breaking his a leg after a great start to his second. If United can bring back a player who performed as well as Shaw did for the first six weeks of the 2015/16 campaign, they will be even more solid in defence and equally as impressive in attack.
Having just turned 22, there is still plenty of time for Shaw to answer any questions Jose Mourinho has concerning his mentality, although it is worrying how regularly he seems to pick up injuries.
He played his first 45 minutes against Championship side Burton in the League Cup last week, but Mourinho insists there’s still plenty of work to be done before he can feature in a Premier League game. His last appearance, after all, was in April.
United aren’t blessed with quality cover at left-back, though, with Daley Blind starting in the first few league matches of the season and Matteo Darmian used more sparingly. However, Ashley Young did enough in his appearance at right-back against FC Basel in the Champions League for Mourinho to put his trust in the converted winger.
It was Young’s inch-perfect cross to Fellaini which saw United take the lead against the Swiss team. While Antonio Valencia, who was voted the Players’ Player of the Year last season, is clearly the superior right-back, he could do with taking lessons from Young on his crossing.
Despite the Basel game being Young’s first appearance since the beginning of May, he played another 90 minutes five days later, this time in the league against Everton. With Valencia returning to right-back, Young was shifted over to the left and was once again solid.
The following weekend Young stayed at left-back, and again assisted United’s first and only goal. Using his right boot, his cross to Romelu Lukaku couldn’t be faulted. The Belgian’s initial header was saved before he put in the rebound.
United struggle to deliver quality balls into the box, which is frustrating when you look at how many tall players Mourinho has brought into the squad. This team should be a real threat in the air, which is why Young is such a valuable asset to the side, even if he will likely struggle against tougher opposition defensively.
At 32, Young is approaching the twilight of his career, but with Mourinho seemingly keener to rotate in cup competitions than he was last season, he may well have an important role to play. The former Aston Villa man was often frustrating as a left winger, but like Valencia he has made a successful transition to full-back.
It was Louis van Gaal who first used Young successfully in a more defensive position. Playing at wing-back in a pre-season friendly against European champions Real Madrid, Young put in a top performance and scored twice. He continued to play well at the back for Van Gaal, even thought the 3-5-2 formation was later ditched. United fans could hardly believe it. Young had never been overwhelmingly popular, even if he did have his moments, and his form had been on the wane for some time.
Of course, he has yet to be tested defensively against the best sides and United fans are still hoping that Shaw is the future. But when called upon, Young has done a great job for the team.
His current deal is set to expire next summer, with the option of a further year. When he first joined the club, you wouldn’t have imagined he would still be there seven years later. If his clause were activated, he would be a year away from having a testimonial.
Not always a fans’ favourite, he is certainly getting some love from the manager and supporters right now If United are to compete on four fronts this season, you would expect to see Young playing in plenty more games and adding a few more assists to his tally.