Shaw can show the importance of balance

Thursday 23 November 2023 10:50

Building from the back has become a fundamental tactic in the modern game.

Erik ten Hag has reiterated how important it is that the centre-backs can spark attacks to the right and left, comfortably feeding the ball through the lines.

This is nothing particularly new to hear from a Manchester United manager as his fellow Dutchman Louis van Gaal had strong views on the subject, preferring a right-footer and left-footer as a partnership in the middle. Marcos Rojo or Daley Blind would often fill the role on the left, and Academy product Tyler Blackett made 11 appearances there.

It is a reason why the continued absence of both Lisandro Martinez and Luke Shaw has been such a blow to the way the team operates, and how Ten Hag likes to play. 

Erik has stressed Licha's qualities with his left foot were instrumental in targeting his former Ajax man, while Shaw will hopefully return at Everton on Sunday, and offers the option of performing in the middle or his traditional full-back slot.

How do you think Luke Shaw will be involved upon his return?poll

How do you think Luke Shaw will be involved upon his return?

Where Shaw slots in is a dilemma for the manager as he has had to select a number of different players on the left, during the England international's spell on the sidelines, with Tyrell Malacia also missing.

Sergio Reguilon, Diogo Dalot, Sofyan Amrabat and Victor Lindelof have all appeared there in 2023/24 and the continuity and consistency provided by the long-serving Shaw makes a difference. Furthermore, his connection down that flank with Marcus Rashford helps to bring the best out of his colleague for club and country, as they link so well together.

However, Luke is such a good footballer that he is also a wonderful option to play in the middle. Although he started his two outings this season out wide, he made 11 starts at centre-back last term.

With Jonny Evans likely to be unavailable at the weekend, there is a decision for the boss to make about who forms his defensive quartet, particularly as Aaron Wan-Bissaka is over his illness. Yet Ten Hag will be pleased to have more options in this area, as he has acknowledged it has a large bearing on how he wants his team to break opponents down.

When it was suggested that Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane are competing for one slot in the team, in an interview with beIN Sports this week, Erik countered: "No. They can play together in certain games, but I thought from the start when I came in here, I want a player on the left side of my defence, who is comfortable on the left side of their foot, because it gives you more and better angles and that is the reason I explained from the start.

"That's why I [brought in] Licha Martinez, to have that left-footed [centre-back]. But we have, in our squad, players whocan [play] left as well, of course, Victor Lindelof and Luke Shaware capable to play in that position. Jonny Evans, as well, and that fits through our way of playing, and that fits to my philosophyof how I see the game."

Having balance in your line-up has always been crucial and this is why Shaw's return is being heralded by many supporters, not just because of his experience and quality.

And we know defenders have to do far more than just nullify the opposition in today's game, just as goalkeepers have to accept making saves is just part of the skillset required because of how football has evolved.

Shaw’s highlights from last season Video

Shaw’s highlights from last season

Watch all seven of Luke Shaw’s goal involvements from the 2022/23 season…

Interestingly, the experienced Evans, who has operated on the left following his return to the club, also explained how crucial it is to be able to play from the back and find the right angles, during his recent Fans' Q&A.

When asked what his advice would be for budding footballers in his position, he replied: “If I’m a young centre-back now, I’d probably say, you know, working on your ball-playing as I think it’s such a crucial part of the game.

"Centre-backs are now having to be the playmakers and use both feet, you know, with different ranges of passes. You’ve got to be able to do it and, obviously, you’ve got to concentrate on defending too, it’s a big part of it too. But, you know, definitely the ball-playing ability and it’s probably the most difficult thing that young centre-backs are having to master now.”

It is a skill Shaw has mastered and why he can bring so much to the party, as United face three tough away games in succession, each in a hostile environment. There are many questions over exactly how the Reds will line up, starting at a fired-up Everton this weekend, before trips to Galatasaray and Newcastle United, but if Luke confirms his fitness, more possibilities open up for the manager. Which is certainly good news.

The opinions in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of Manchester United Football Club.