Erik ten Hag’s Strategy for United’s Defence
Luke Shaw used “his body with my brain,” as Jose Mourinho memorably stated at a remarkable 2017 press conference.
“At age 21, one should possess a more advanced comprehension. After a goalless draw with Everton at Old Trafford, a frustrated Mourinho continued, “He has a future here, but Manchester United can’t wait.”
Shaw’s future was cast into doubt after Mourinho questioned his dedication and focus and kept him out of the starting lineup in the last match against West Brom.
Shaw appeared destined to depart United when Mourinho took over, but he made it through that time, and given the difficulties he’s endured both physically and mentally, overcoming adversity has been a recurring theme in his career.
Most players’ abilities would be limited by the awful double leg fracture Shaw sustained against PSV Eindhoven in 2015, therefore it’s amazing that he’s been able to play some of his greatest games since recovering.
Though it may sound exaggerated, Shaw was widely considered the best left-back in the world during the 2020–21 season. Despite a decline in performance the next season, he was at his best when he was playing for Erik ten Hag.
Shaw was outstanding the previous season, and when asked to play centre back in December due to Lisandro Martinez’s absence following World Cup success, he did it with ease.
“To be honest, I’ve been having a great time, although we have a lot of elite centre backs here. “It’s an entirely new experience for me,” Shaw remarked following his second game in that capacity.
“I’ve played centre back, but it’s very different when you play in a three. I’m willing to play wherever I am as long as I’m on that pitch because the manager has asked me to play there. Having someone like Varane beside me always helps.”
Shaw was originally accused by Mourinho of not understanding his position, but that is now completely untrue given his intelligence and ability to play on the left side of central defence.
Even though Mourinho made a lot of remarks that history has looked back on with fondness, his lengthy critique of Shaw cannot be included, and the player will have felt vindicated for disproving his old manager.
Last season, Shaw appeared in over ten games at centre defence, starting in the thrilling 2-2 draw against Barcelona at Camp Nou a few weeks after the team’s 2-1 victory over Manchester City at Old Trafford in January.
When Shaw made his debut in a two-man axis against Nottingham Forest on December 27, it took some fans by surprise, but by the end of the season, they were asking why he hadn’t been played there sooner.
It’s no secret that Ten Hag like to start a left-footed player as the left-sided center-back because of the advantages the position offers in build-up play, and Shaw was outstanding in that capacity.
Shaw performed admirably in his absence towards the end of the previous season, despite Lisandro Martinez being signed specifically for that position, indicating that he might be utilized there once again if his injury heals.
The 28-year-old hasn’t played since suffering an injury during the team’s August loss to Tottenham, but he’s getting close to making a comeback, and there’s a chance he might play this weekend.
Shaw has been greatly missed in his natural position at left back, where he has been substituted by Diogo Dalot, Victor Lindelof, and Sofyan Amrabat. However, when he returns, it’s possible that he will be utilised at centre back.
Harry Maguire and Raphael Varane have battled for starting positions on the right side of the defence since Ten Hag views Martinez, Jonny Evans, and Shaw as the defenders who can play on the left side.
Lindelof and Maguire were selected to play Luton before the break since Martinez has been out for three months due to a metatarsal issue and Evans strained his thigh against Copenhagen.
Although Lindelof started the game on the left and scored the game-winning goal, Shaw is clearly superior to him there, so it will be interesting to watch if he returns to the club right away should he be able to play for Everton.
Though they haven’t played together as a center-back duo for United, Shaw and Maguire are good friends and have experience playing together in a three-man defence for England. At Goodison Park, they might establish that relationship.
Shaw’s ailment has been resolved, and his return will be greatly appreciated.