Luke Shaw

Could Shaw play at centre-back again?

Wednesday 28 December 2022 12:28

“It looked like Luke has played there all his life at centre-half.”

That was Erik ten Hag’s assessment of Luke Shaw’s out-of-position performance against Nottingham Forest and managerial feedback doesn’t get too much more effusive than that.

Prior to Tuesday’s clash, Shaw had appeared 229 times for Manchester United, with the vast majority of those games seeing him play at left-back or left wing-back.

The England international had only moved inside on eight occasions, and on each of those that was as the left-sided centre-back when former boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer opted to play a five-man defence.

With Lisandro Martinez not yet ready to return following his World Cup success with Argentina, Victor Lindelof ill and Harry Maguire still recovering from the sickness which kept him on the sidelines for last week’s win over Burnley, Shaw was asked to partner Raphael Varane in a back four for the meeting with the East Midlanders.

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Other than a shaky moment prior to half-time – when Forest thought they’d halved the deficit only for the ‘goal’ to be ruled out for offside – and a couple of sharp David De Gea saves, the Reds' backline held firm to claim yet another Old Trafford clean sheet on Tuesday night.

According to, Luke touched the ball 118 times – more than any other player on the pitch – and made three interceptions, with only Casemiro and Tyrell Malacia, who occupied Luke’s usual left-back position, matching that figure.

He kept the dangerous Brennan Johnson largely quiet, winning all three of his aerial duels and completed over 90 per cent of his passes to play an important part in United’s build-up, as goals from Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Fred secured a dominant win on our return to Premier League action.

So, did Luke’s impressive showing against Steve Cooper’s side prove that, as well as marauding down the left and creating chances for our forwards, he can also occupy a central role in a traditional back four if needed?

Ten Hag clearly believes so.

“He was really composed, really decisive there and determined to play that position. It was a really good performance,” Erik added.

United actually have a fairly comprehensive history of players impressing when playing out of position at centre-back, with Casemiro standing tall there against Burnley – a role which Ten Hag revealed Shaw had touted himself for.

“Already last week he offered himself for me,” Ten Hag said. “He came in and said 'look I can play centre-half against Burnley'.

“We made the choice to have Casemiro in that job but you see him [Luke] playing a magnificent game [against Forest] and doing really well and it looks like he was playing as a centre-back for many, many years.”

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The Brazilian midfielder reached out to an iconic ex-Red after running the game against Forest.

In terms of current Reds, Scott McTominay also has experience at the back – albeit mostly for Scotland – while in the recent past Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick have made a successful transition from midfield to defence when required.

Back when squads were smaller, right-back Gary Neville would sometimes be called on to move inside and the likes of John O’Shea and Daley Blind were versatile enough to play there for longer periods without looking out of place.

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When everyone is fit and firing, clearly it is preferable to have Lindelof, Maguire, Martinez and Varane vying to play in their natural position and Shaw at left-back, whipping in those dangerous crosses for Martial, Rashford et al to convert.

But, with a long second half of the season ahead and injuries and illness always a potential worry, it’s reassuring for Ten Hag to see Luke perform so well as a centre-back and know he can do it in the future when the need arises.

“It is good to know that we have options there, and that is also what you need for the whole squad – have players who can play in more positions,” the Dutchman concluded.